The Common Good

'Praise God, All Creatures Here Below'

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise [God], all creatures here below;
Praise [God] above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Amen.

Words by Thomas Ken (1674)

The Doxology was my favorite hymn growing up. We would sing it every Sunday in church at the end of the service, mostly a cappella. I was amazed at the different harmonies and range in which the hymn could be sung. I loved how simple the words were. But I did not understand the words fully until well into my adult life. As a kid, I immediately disregarded things like animals, plants, insects, and fish as creatures that could praise God. Surely the act of praising God is only reserved for the sentient beings, with a conscience and the ability to say in words “praise God.” No way would God receive the praises of a mosquito, or fern or cat or pig.

It took the glory of creation itself for me to fully understand the words of the Doxology. A year out of college, I was sitting on a kayak in the middle of Doubtful Sound, New Zealand surrounded by snowcapped peaks that dropped right into the water. The sun was shining, dolphins were swimming nearby, and the birds were chirping. Then the song hit me “Praise God, all creatures here below.” I could hear the songs of praise from his non-human creatures. It finally dawned on me that my songs of praise paled in comparison to the winds that touch the peaks of mountains, the perfect songs of birds and the language of dolphins. They are all songs of praise!

Looking more closely, the song made literal sense to me now. The hymn gives simple instructions for all of God’s creatures, Praise God! Thomas Ken wisely understood Psalm 96: 10-13 as it says:

Say among the nations,
“The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peopled with equity.”
Let the Heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it;
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD;
for He is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth.

It seems that all of creation is destined and commanded to praise their Creator. We humans have a funny way of thinking and acting like we are the center of all of God’s creation and that plants and animals are exempt from this mandate. In this vein, we continue to exploit, misuse, and abuse creation because somehow we’ve come to the conclusion they are not important to God. The Doxology and the passage in Psalms challenge our anthropocentricism. Why else would there be vivid imagery of God’s love for all creation through parables, poems, and song through Scriptures.

We are taught to look differently at creation through this hymn. If all of creation has the ability to praise their Creator isn’t there an inherent responsibility for us humans to be stewards of our fellow Creation? That is why in Genesis that Adam’s first job is to name the animals and to take delight in the perfect garden in which God created. It was a result of the fall that the ground became hard to work and that clothes were made out of animal skin to hide the shame of sin. Despite the fallen relationship between humans and the rest of creation, we are still commanded to take care of the land and sea.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Humans, angels, and all creatures are commanded to praise God. The Creator is inviting us to take delight and have dominion over creation, not domination. All of creation will be judged by our Creator. People will be judged by God in equity, but creation is commanded to praise its Creator. Perhaps all the animals of land, air and sea and all the plants that inhabit it are singing a more perfect hymn to their Creator than humans ever could.

George Lee is Senior Executive Assistant at Sojourners.

Image: View from Doubtful Sound in New Zealand, Harrison B / Shutterstock.com

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