I was reading Psalm 104 earlier this week and deeply encouraged on so many levels — namely, with the recognition that it is nature and nurture that make us who we are.
The psalm speaks mainly of the natural world — of oceans and mountains and all kinds of animals. Here is a portion of the text:
You blanketed earth with ocean,
covered the mountains with deep waters;
Then you roared and the water ran away —
your thunder crash put it to flight.
Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out
in the places you assigned them.
You set boundaries between earth and sea;
never again will earth be flooded.
You started the springs and rivers,
sent them flowing among the hillls.
All the wild animals now drink their fill,
wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Along the riverbanks the birds build nests,
ravens make their voices heard.
You water the mountains from your heavenly cisterns;
earth is supplied with plenty of water.
You make grass grow for the livestock,
hay for the animals that plow the ground.
God’s trees are well-watered —
the Lebanon cedars he planted.
Birds build their nests in those trees;
look — the stork at home in the treetop.
Mountain goats climb about the cliffs;
badgers burrow among the rocks.
The moon keeps track of the seasons,
the sun is in charge of each day.
When it’s dark and night takes over,
all the forest creatures come out.
The young lions roar for their prey,
clamoring to God for their supper.
When the sun comes up, they vanish,
lazily stretched out in their dens.
Meanwhile, men and women go out to work,
busy at their jobs until evening.
What a wildly wonderful world, God!
You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.
Oh, look — the deep, wide sea,
brimming with fish past counting,
sardines and sharks and salmon.
Ships plow those waters,
and Leviathan, your pet dragon, romps in them.
All the creatures look expectantly to you
to give them their meals on time.
You come, and they gather around;
you open your hand and they eat from it.
If you turned your back,
they’d die in a minute —
Take back your Spirit and they die,
revert to original mud;
Send out your Spirit and they spring to life —
the whole countryside in bloom and blossom.
— Psalm 104
We’ve been talking quite a bit these days about the true self and the false self.
I would define the true self as the image God had in mind for us when he conceived to create us. It is a self connected to God and rooted in the reality of God’s good intention for our existence.
I would define the false self as anything in us that separates or disconnects us from God and our true self. This can include original sin, chosen sin, or simply the distractions and diversions that we seek out in an attempt to build ourselves up into an image we’ve created for ourselves, rather than the image already given to us by God that is deeply good and beautiful.
In this passage above, I see so much that speaks to these dynamics, both in the ways we were created to exist (the true self) and the ways we can be de-formed away from that existence (the false self).
Let’s begin with the way God created the earth and all that dwells within it.
In its serene, contented, intended state, all of creation responds to God and is given everything it needs by God. We see the plants and animals and livestock responding to their existence by simply going about it. They eat grass that never stops growing up for them, they build nests with endless supplies for the making of them, they trust God for their next meal.
This is the intended existence of life: being who we were made to be, un-self-conscious about it, and trusting God for everything good thing.
But then think about what happens to animals when they’re harmed.
When I read this passage the other day, I thought about my lovely cat Diva.
Kirk rescued her as a kitten from behind an opera house (hence her name), but she was a matted, mewling mess. She’d been abandoned, and the elements had not been good to her. She weighed next to nothing, and she skitted away from human contact. It was only because of the immediate way Solomon took to her that day — Solomon, whom Kirk was also rescuing that day — as he began licking her all over, cleaning her fur, as soon as they were set down in a box together, that Kirk knew Diva was going home with him that day.
When it came time for me to meet Diva for the first time, about six years after she’d come to live with Kirk, he warned me she would likely run away and hide under a table or couch, scared. But instead she came near, smelled my feet, rubbed against my legs, allowed me to bend down and run my hand along her back quite a few times.
Over the last seven years of my life with Diva, she’s grown. She still gets skittish, especially fighting against too much presence crowding her space if you hold her close to your chest, but she has a quiet confidence about her. She rests next to me on my desk each morning, content to simply be with me. She waits expectantly by my chair, staring up at me with an unending gaze of plaintive eyes, begging me to give her some affection and completely unafraid to ask for it. She has grown a very full and soft, downy coat of fur (and a little bit of a healthy-sized belly!).
Nurture has affected her — both for ill (in the early days of her life) and for good (thanks to kindness and unconditional care).
We know this to be true of all animals, too. Those who’ve been abused become frightened or, sometimes, angry and abusive themselves. But the psalm shows the true, intended state of the animal kingdom to be that of peace and trust.
So it is with us.
We have a seed of God in us — it is the presence of our true self. We also have the seed of the fall of mankind in us, as well as the seeds of all that has nurtured us toward health or harm.
We are both.