In the previous post, I suggested that the importance of contemplation may be discerned in the story of Mary and Martha. Among other things, like Mary, we ought to be at the feet of Jesus absorbing his word.
The importance of contemplation may also be discerned in the psalms. The psalms of course include many dimensions of human speech and activity, including hymns of praise, adoration, lament, supplication, thanksgiving, etc. It makes sense that contemplation would also find expression in the psalms. God, the central subject of the psalms, is a mighty and mysterious God. As he claims through the psalmist, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). The psalmist thus often seeks a quiet and contemplative disposition to know the Lord (Ps 39:2), oftentimes expressing itself as a composed submissive posture before God in which the believer acquiesces to the promises of God (62:1ff.; cf. Eccl 3:7; Isa 30:15). As David likewise reflects, “One thing I asked of the Lord . . . to behold the beauty of the Lord” (Ps 27:4).
This particular post will focus on David’s contemplative song of praise in Psalm 145. I am writing this to show the existence and necessity of contemplation as I have defined it in the previous posts. Contemplation is gospel-centered thinking that seeks to understand and appraise the person’s union with God in Christ. As David further displays in his song, contemplation may also involve a close reflection of God’s works or acts (e.g., creation and governance).
He reflects (vv. 1-7):
1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The psalmist’s words clearly communicate that, while God’s greatness is unsearchable, and while he is great beyond searching, one can reflect upon something that is visible and more concrete, that is, the manifest works or acts of God through the splendor of his workmanship. As David reflects, he wants to “meditate” on God’s wondrous works to declare his greatness. David contemplates the beauty and majesty of God through his creation.
Calvin, among many other examples, also sensed the necessity of contemplating God in his works. As he reflects in these verses, we are “called to a knowledge of God:” not one that is “content with empty speculation” or “flits in the brain,” but rather one that “takes root in the heart” (Institutes, 1:5.9). What is the way or manner of this more profound and impactful knowledge? As the psalmist suggests, Calvin reflects, it is “not for us to attempt with bold curiosity to penetrate to the investigation of his essence, which we ought more to adore than meticulously to search out, but for us to contemplate him in his works whereby he renders himself near and familiar to us, and in some manner communicates himself” (Ibid.; cf. his commentary on Psalms, 3:271-284).
In other words, we ought to adore God in his incomprehensible essence, but also we ought to contemplate him in his works (thus again suggesting that contemplation is content based, as I argued before). This is why after David acknowledges God’s greatness (Ps 145:3), he contemplates God in his works (vv. 5-6; cf. Ps 40:5). This is also why, among other things, Paul avers that God is not far from each of us, for he created and sustains our very being (Acts 17:27-28). It is no wonder that writers of Scripture often find analogy in creation of the sovereignty, beauty, and goodness of the Lord. One cannot gaze at the sublimity of the Grand Canyon or ponder the intricacies of the quark without the acknowledgement of God, however suppressed it may be.
Returning to the psalms text, David continues to contemplate God’s works through the previous revelation of his word: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (vv. 8-9; cf. Exod 34:6). David’s thoughts seamlessly travel from God’s revelation in creation to his Scripture, from his works to his words. His meditation’s purpose is to know and love God more, to perceive his works as a reflection of his majesty (v. 10) and as evidence of his power and sovereignty over the nations (vv. 11-13).
His majesty and power are no more visible than in his benevolent care of all peoples (vv. 14-21). God upholds those who are falling. He provides all creatures with food and every desire in each season. He is righteous and kind. He is a God who is present and listening. God preserves his people.
In short, David’s song of praise is a contemplation and application of the fact that all things belong to the Lord. He is, in effect, applying the truth that “my God is the Lord” to all areas of life. While the two were separated across history, I’m sure David would enthusiastically approve of Kuyper’s often quoted remark: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
Contemplation of God’s works is central to knowing God. “It is also fitting, therefore,” as Calvin concludes, “for us to pursue this particular search for God [in contemplation], which may so hold our mental powers suspended in wonderment as at the same time to stir us deeply” (1:5.9). Contemplation of God’s works leads to our constant awe and thanksgiving. (How much more Calvin’s words apply to contemplation of God’s acts through Christ Jesus.)
Herein again lies the importance of contemplation. It is, among other things, the process by which the mind understands, connects, and applies gospel truth to all areas of life—whether emotions, thought patterns, and even one’s awareness of existence itself. Contemplation is central to knowing and loving the gospel.
In the next post I will further differentiate contemplation from other related concepts (e.g., meditation). Thanks for reading.