God considers us to be worth more than many sparrows (Matt. 10:31). As Joe Rigney reminds us, or will remind us when the book comes out, this is an exhibition of what philosophers call proportionate regard. God cares more for how we are decked out than how the lilies are (Matt. 6:30). At the central point of comparison, this is better than that.
That is to say, everything else being equal, mutatis mutandis, this is better than that. But what do we do when everything else is not equal? We are to conduct thought experiments that reveal our desire to grow up into maturity. We hold variables in abeyance for the sake of wisdom; we don’t throw the variables out.
Our perennial temptation is to try to freeze time, elminate all variables, so that we may then compare one frozen thing to another, in order that we may pronounce which one is better in some sort of fixed sense. Thus, to take an absurd example, for People magazine to pronounce somebody, out of a pool of billions, the “sexiest man alive” is not just a silly mistake. It is infantile, a revolt against maturity. But we do it with all sorts of things. But this is like listening to Beethoven’s Fifth, and pronouncing one note played by the second violinist the “most exquisite moment of the evening.” Really? Listen to yourself.
We must imitate God as we look up to Him. In this regard, we must look up in imitation of how He looks down. I need to think that people are more valuable than sparrows also — but I must do it in context.
I have argued before that we must learn to evaluate and appreciate all the gifts we have in the world around us, and after evaluating them, arrange them in a hierarchy, with God occupying the appropriate place of all honor in that hierarchy. We honor God by whether we place Him at the apex of the hierarchy of all things — which is not at all the same thing as eliminating the hierarchy of good and glorious things so that they might not be a distraction to us in our worship of Him.
When we look around us at a world full of stuff, and then some other stuff, and then some more stuff, all of which is not God, we can go one of two directions. We can arbitrarily select one ore more of these things to make an idol, or we can look at every last one of them as a potential recruit for the choir we are putting together in order to sing God’s praises. I am no idolater if I am singing shoulder to shoulder with all these others.
Praise Him . . . sun and moon.
Praise Him . . . roly poly bugs.
Praise Him . . . Bach cantatas.
Praise Him . . . jazz solos.
Praise Him . . . creepy crawlies.
Praise Him, stippled trout, brinded cows, and dappled things.
Praise Him, deep water, where no light comes.
Praise Him, dragons on the mountain.
Praise Him, fine reduction sauce at anniversary dinners.
Praise Him, motocross jumpers.
Praise Him, dignified worship.
Praise Him, exuberant worship.
Praise Him, Memphis ribs.
Praise Him, Memphis blues.
Praise Him, passionate lovemaking.
Praise Him, steak fries and ranch dressing.
Praise Him, water, wine, bread.
Praise Him, rocks of the driveway (Ps. 148, amplified).
One could go on, of course. One could go on and never stop. But when we compare this to that woodenly, as though they were in a marathon footrace, we are missing the symphonic nature of all created reality. You don’t praise God appropriately by sacking all the woodwinds because you think they might someday get above themselves.
So there is a way of taking creation thick that makes it more transparent, revealing God ever more clearly, and there is a way of diluting the creation for the sake of seeing God more clearly that actually makes an idol out of whatever the diluting agent is. God does not seem to think that the creation order obscures Him in any way. Go out and look at the night sky. He slings matter about like nobody else ever did.
But something obscures Him. Yes, that is quite right, something does. As every choir director knows, there is always somebody angling for a big solo part.