A few years ago I was in a seminary class when the topic of beauty and nature arose. There was a minor discussion full of sound and fury signifying nothing, but I can still remember one comment a fellow student made. He said something like this, “Sure, I can appreciate a good sunset like anyone else, but since we have the Bible, there’s really nothing I can learn in nature about God that isn’t revealed in Scripture.” As he spoke a desire welled up deep within me to spring out of my seat, cross the room, grab him by the shirt, press his face up against the desk, and shout some sort of obscenity at him.
I didn’t, of course.
I paused for a moment before asking the following question: “If Rembrandt were to miraculously rise from the dead and come into this room so we could talk to him, do you think you would ever look at any of his paintings again?” The room was silent. I added, “Just because an artist is present with us doesn’t mean we don’t still have much to learn from the artist through his works. In fact, I might argue we can learn things from his works we would be unable to know merely through a conversation with the artist.” By the dumbfounded look on his face, and the silence in the rest of the room, I could tell he still didn’t understand what I was saying.
I continued, simplifying it so that even a seminary student could understand. “God’s revelation in nature is not negated by his revelation in scripture, in fact, I think it is augmented by it. What is seen in his artistic works intermingle with what is said in his rational works and culminates in his personal work. In other words, nature supplements the written word and comes to ultimate culmination in the person of Christ. You can’t separate one from the other; all three are necessary.”
There was another time of silence in the room. Maybe I’m wrong to think that the work of God’s hand, the words of his mouth, and the presence of his son intermingle into a tripartite revelation of God. Maybe we are supposed to live in a concrete jungle isolated from the ebbs and flows of nature and reading just the Bible. Maybe.
Then again, maybe I wasn’t wrong at all. Maybe the heavens declare God’s glory. Maybe the skies proclaim his handiwork. Maybe we should go to the ant to learn its ways. Maybe a sunset is more than just a pretty picture. Maybe we miss God’s full speech when we elevate one over the other.
I’m going out of my area of expertise in the following paragraphs (as if I actually have one!), so I am sure there will be some mistakes, but bear with me. As I understand it, music has three essential parts: there is the rhythm, bringing pacing and tempo to a song; there is the melody, that which we usually hum and that with which the lyrical element is usually most closely associated; and the harmony, which is, in part, the inter-working of the rhythm and melody producing an emotional element to the music. (I am most likely guilty of oversimplifying this, so I apologize to all the musicians reading this.)
So what does all this have to do with Psalm 19? Well, It seems that God has revealed himself in the rhythms of nature, in its beauty, in its awesome glory, and its tragic danger. This is the world in which we live in and what we, deep down in our soul understand. Nature is God’s rhythm.
Once the rhythm was established, God sang his words into the world. He led the Israelites by a cloud during the day and fire at night and then revealed his law. He gave words to the song of nature so we could understand God’s message about our life and how it connects to nature’s rhythms. The law is God’s melody.
But a song is not complete without harmony. There had to be a final revelation from God bringing together nature and the law: the two had to be reconciled. God’s final revelation was a living image existing before all things, and in whom all things held together. It was a person in whom we all find true life and meaning. Psalm 19 speaks of God’s rhythm and melody, but it also points God’s final revelation: Jesus Christ, God’s harmony.
Rhythm. Melody. Harmony. All necessary elements of good music. Played masterfully together our souls can be moved deeply, bringing us to tears, making us feel triumphant, and taking us to the mystical edges of life, that place for which we were made.
Nature. Scripture. Jesus. All necessary elements of God’s revelation. Understood and experienced together, they move us deeply in our experience, bringing us closer to God so we can enter into abundant life, the life for which we were made.