Vanity vs. Fulness: Matthew Henry, Psalm 24 and the Gulf Oil Spill

Psalm 24:1, 2 says,

“The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.  For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.”

I felt so grasshoppery this morning as I prayed through this Psalm, remembering that I’m a visitor, a brief one, a flower that fades, a mist on the earth, temporarily here, not even my own.

And Matthew Henry’s wonderful commentary spoke to me powerfully as I thought about the Gulf oil spill and all the other ways I contribute to wrecking this, my temporary home, due to my greed and thoughtfulness.  And it helped me remember my relative position as I relate to God.  Listen in on his wisdom, calling out from the 17th century:

“We are not to think that the heavens, even the heavens only, are the Lord’s and that this earth, being so small and inconsiderable a part of the creation, is neglected, and that he claims no interest in it.  No, even the earth is his.  When God gave the earth to the children of men he still reserved to himself the property, and only let it out to them as tenants: The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.

The mines, the fruits it produces, all the beasts of the forest and the cattle upon a thousand hills, our lands and houses, and all the improvements that are made of this earth by the skill and industry of man, are all his. These indeed, in the kingdom of grace, are justly looked upon as emptiness; for they are vanity of vanities, nothing to a soul; but in the kingdom of providence, they are fulness.  The earth is full of God’s riches, so is the great and wide sea also.  The habitable part of this earth is his in a special manner — the world and those that dwell therein.  We ourselves are not our own, our bodies, our souls, are not.

There’s something so appropriately humbling in realizing God’s scope and my own.  There’s such relief in that realization.

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2 responses to “Vanity vs. Fulness: Matthew Henry, Psalm 24 and the Gulf Oil Spill

  1. Jonathan Pavluk

    Yes, humbling, but there is something incredibly empowering about these truths also. For example, Sergius Bulgakov contends that, when the apokatastasis happens (the “restitution of all things,” Acts 3:21), and the created order receives the fulness of the infilling of the Holy Spirit, it means that, in that day, the earth will become not so much more “heavenly,” as more “human,” — in that, now we see the whole Creation manifest with all its deficiencies as it has been ruined by the Fall, and ruined by all kinds of subsequent depredations like oil spills and by other misbegotten industries of fallen Man, all being “subject to futility” (Rom. 8:20); but then one Day, that Day when we are all expecting that the earth and everything in it will all at last be delivered “from the bondage of corruption” into “glorious liberty” — the glorious liberty that Scriptures talk about is precisely the glorious liberty of the “sons of God” (Rom. 8:21): in other words the earth under the management of human beings, transfigured and made righteous, but still ultimately human beings, is going to be a “new earth.” That’s because the human being (enosh, the “son of man” Ps. 8:4) was made to “have dominion” (Ps. 8:6) over all the works of God’s hands, over all things. And so, in that Day, when the transformation of the righteous is complete, the human beings will really rule and have dominion and get back to work fixing what was broken. So, the earth and the hills and the seas and the “heavens” will finally be able to “declare” (in fullness of reality and not in secret code), “the glory of God” entirely; and the “firmament” will finally declare “his handywork” (Ps. 19: 1-2) completely, because man will have been properly equipped to make it happen so. That thought is pretty empowering, dont’ you think?

  2. I love that idea, fully love it, and get excited whenever I think about it. It’s mind-boggling… us as “agents.” But I’m wondering how you see the need to “get back to work fixing what was broken.” Will that be part of the fun or will that be unnecessary?

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