It’s been a long time since my wife and I have been camping. A long time.
Neither of us grew up in families that did this. And we never would have gone if it hadn’t been for friends who loved camping, convinced us that it was worth the effort, and dragged us along. Some of my most treasured memories are of the places we visited, the things we did and saw. Carpets of spring wildflowers in Joshua Tree National Monument. A clear night sky, filled with stars. An overcast day in Yosemite National Park, gazing at a double rainbow stretching over Half Dome. Marveling at the incomprehensible majesty of the giant sequoias.
And all of that without leaving California.
I remember backpacking through mountain meadows to Lake Tenaya. It was a feast for the eyes, at least for someone raised in the suburbs. Look up, look ahead: the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas were all around us. Look down: an endless variety of flora lay at our feet. I would sometimes hold up the hiking party (I’m sure they were glad for the rest) as I got down on my belly with my camera and macro lens to capture the delicate color and symmetry of some alpine wildflower.
What a contrast with the last several months, in which my world has constricted mostly to the four walls of our house, and all my work is done online.
But meditating on the Psalms gives me hope. Psalm 104 helps expand my vision and renew my sense of wonder. Death and disease are not part of God’s perfect order, and the world that God created is still a thing of beauty. Half Dome will still be standing firm long after the pandemic has passed.
And God is greater than Half Dome.
. . .
If Psalm 119 is an ode to Torah, Psalm 104 is an ode to creation, and to the glory of its Creator. The psalm opens with a magnificent, cosmic description of God. I like the exhilaration and enthusiasm with which the Common English Bible captures the words:
Let my whole being bless the Lord!
Lord my God, how fantastic you are!
You are clothed in glory and grandeur!
You wear light like a robe;
you open the skies like a curtain.
You build your lofty house on the waters;
you make the clouds your chariot,
going around on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers;
you make fire and flame your ministers.
You established the earth on its foundations
so that it will never ever fall.
You covered it with the watery deep like a piece of clothing;
the waters were higher than the mountains!
But at your rebuke they ran away;
they fled in fear at the sound of your thunder.
They flowed over the mountains,
streaming down the valleys
to the place you established for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross
so they’ll never again cover the earth. (vss. 1-9)
God: robed in light, sovereign over the skies, riding the wind and clouds. God: setting the foundations of the earth. God: master of the sea. In the ancient world, the sea was often perceived as a place of darkness and brooding fear. But at the thunderous voice of God the vast waters flee, and obediently stay where he tells them to stay.
What is hope? On what is it based? There’s nothing wrong, of course, with hoping for an end to the pandemic. There’s nothing wrong in hoping that people will learn wisdom, that the vaccines will be effective, and that enough people will be vaccinated as soon as possible to move us toward herd immunity.
But a specifically Christian hope begins with a worshipful recognition of who God is: the One who declares “Let there be light” is the One who is sovereign over all darkness. The psalmist contemplates the wonder of creation, is thoroughly taken by the majesty of God, and blurts out words of adoration and praise.
If we could do the same, we would find the basis of our hope.