All Creation Praises God

All Creation Praises God September 2, 2019

Daniel Orth: Blessing of the Animals Mural on Olvera Street Los Angeles, CA by Leo Politi /flickr

God, the source and foundation of everything and everyone, sustains everyone and everything as well. He provides for and establishes the good of all things. He is, indeed, their final good. When they turn away from him, when they close themselves from him and come to their own apart from him, they lose out of the blessings which is needed to sustain their happiness. This is why the happy life is found in union with God. This is because in and with God, God will be all things for everyone, freely giving out of his infinite and incomprehensible love all that they should need in order to truly be happy. Happiness resides in, with and through God, and in the end, when God will be all things for everyone (cf. 1Cor 15:28), then everyone can be happy.

This happiness is not just for us, that is, it is not given only to humanity. God will be all things for everyone, and everything. All that has been created, all that exists, finds its support and happiness in God. Though there is only one begotten Son, in and through him the words of Salvian ring true: “The whole world and the whole human race are the offspring of their Creator.”[1]

Each and every living thing has its own way to be with God, to experience God. Each thing, therefore, has its way of communing with, and therefore communicating with, God. As their potentiality differs from each other, so their final good found with God will differ. This means, what they need, and what God provides to them will be different. The happiness of each creature when it finds itself in union with God will differ according to its potential to receive the goodness of God. The greater its own being, the greater that potential will be, and so the happier it will be able to be. This is not surprising, because this truth is not just about the different types of creatures contained in the realm of being, but with each particular one within each type, which is why within humanity, there remains a diversity of potential ends, potential forms of happiness, when in heaven. God will give the same absolute blessing of himself to all, but each will receive in accordance to their own innate qualities, to their own virtues, so that those with greater virtue will be able to receive and experience God in a way greater than those with less. But all of them will share in and with the same end, the same greatness which is God, and all of them in their communion with God, will find themselves in ever-lasting joy, so that whatever is the greatest happiness they can enjoy, they will enjoy it.[2]

All creation, all created beings, have their relationship with God, and so all creation can be said to praise the Lord. This is not to say they understand such praise the same. They likely do not understand “God” the same way. Some will probably have a greater grasp of “God” than others, according to the relative level of their intellectual capability and whatever way God engages them (combined with whatever form of social awareness of God is shared by them, if any such awareness is spread), but all of them, in their own way, will demonstrate the glory of God and in that demonstration, all of them can be said to be praising God.[3] The Psalms give us a glimpse of this truth, as the Psalmist, in a rare insight for humanity, sensed the universal praise being given to God by all creation:

Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!  Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children!  Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven (Ps. 14:7-13 RSV).

Likewise, in the Apocalypse, this reality is once again revealed, as ever creature is shown worshiping God:

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, “To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!”  (Rev. 5:13 RSV).

If we but pay attention, we are told, we can discern the way others know and experience God:

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?  In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind (Job 12:7-10 RSV).

This is not to say they will know God in the way we know God, that they will experience God in the way we experience God. Everything will know God in the way God is reflected in themselves, in the way they participate in God’s existence. It took God to reveal himself with humanity and promote the development and refinement of our religious notions and ideals; but before then, there were rudimentary religious understandings affirmed by the whole of humanity and implicit in them was the acknowledgment of God (even if it did not demonstrate any significant knowledge of God in a monotheistic sense). Likewise, even if animals do not have the intellectual aspects of our religious understanding, they likely will have their own ways of knowing and discerning the glory of God. Yes, they might not think about God in the way we do it, they might not philosophize about God and talk amongst themselves about him, but the glory of God shines throughout all of creation and all things reveal God to those who can discern it.  We must ask them, that is, we must investigate thing, and let God reveal himself in and through them and their ways. If we are careful, if we are open, if we do not let our prior prejudices get between us, we might even discern the ways that they praise God, and in doing so, be said to even worship God (implicitly if not explicitly).

We tend to think that among all the animals of the earth, humanity alone worships God. But Scripture tells us otherwise. Animals can and do worship God in their own way, and so they respond to him in their own way. It might not be in an intellectual sense. It might be based upon how they act and strive to live out their essential being. But there is something in the way they live which indicates their relationship with God, and that relationship can be called “worship.” It is something implicit in them which can possibly be brought out (even as it was in humanity, and was slowly brought out through revelation and social development). For this reason, we can find many stories about saints who somehow brought in animals into their worship with God, showing us that animals can be raised up with human contact worship God with us. The saints are able to overcome the barriers between us and the rest of creation, so that we can discern through the light of their ways, the truths which we otherwise have neglected or ignored. St. Anthony of Padua could preach to the fish and have them listen to him because the fish have their own natural affinity for God: he only found a way to connect his worship and celebration of God with theirs. Saints like St. Anthony of Padua might present rare instances where the barriers between humanity and the rest of the animal creation start to fall away, revealing the unity we have with each other in our worship and praise with God, but we should consider it an eschatological event, revealing the “already-but-not-yet” quality of the eschaton. “The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise” (Is. 43:20-21 RSV).The kingdom of God is all around us, and so if we become pure at heart, pure in our love for God and love for our neighbor (which must include all of creation), we will have a different vision of reality, one which allows us to discern and elevate what otherwise has been lost to us due to the darkness of sin.

Thus, while we can talk about religious worship, the systematic development of the innate relationship creatures have with God, we can say that the worship of God, praise of God, is given to God by all things. We must remember, of course, what worship is and what it is not. Worship is not given to God because it is something which he needs from us. Worship, rather, is a way for us to open ourselves up to him, to elevate our hearts, to grow in love, so that we can then find ourselves in communion with him. Different forms of worship grant us different ways in which we open ourselves up and prepare ourselves for the glory which we can receive from God’s great grace. We focus our thoughts, our ideas, our hearts, on God, hoping that we find ourselves with him. We cleanse ourselves of all imperfections which could otherwise divert us away from him and the glory which he would have us receive. Since we are complex being with many different elements within us, we find many forms of worship important, though all of them have their ways of influencing us and helping us properly center ourselves with God.  Thus, when Scripture and the saints show us that animals, too, praise God, that all creation praises God, all creation can be said to worship God, opening themselves up to him and the great gift of his being. All things participate in his existence, but those creatures which share not only existence, but sentience, and a will of their own are able to participate in and with God greater, and so are able do direct themselves to that good which they find joins them with God. They engage a form of worship of their own in relation to that communion with God. Those who think animals cannot know God, or cannot worship him, because they act and think and do things differently from us, misunderstand worship, and this often can be seen in the legalistic way so many people treat worship. They also confuse particular types of knowing (such as discursive reasoning) as the only forms of knowing. Yes, rituals are important; they are invaluable, especially when they are related to revelation and experience with God, but we must remember the heart of worship itself and what it is about: communion with God. We are given signs and symbols with a reality behind them in the sacraments because most of us cannot discern the fullness of reality itself. Worship does not require us to comprehend God: indeed, God’s transcendence means we never will. We will commune with God and find ourselves in him, lifted up by him, while finding ourselves in the cloud of unknowing, where what we know of God is infinitely less than what God is in himself: even the word God fails to meet the reality. This is true, not just for us, but for all sentient being.

Andrew Linzey, therefore tell us a truth which we must not ignore:

Praising God is not just a human activity. At heart, of course, it is the Spirit who prays through us. But not only us. The Spirit alive in creation inspires the praise of the entire created order. How often we listen to those Psalms which speak so eloquently of the creation in praise, and then return to our own deeply self-centered worship of the same Creator God.[4]

All creation is called to join in with us in the praise of God.  “Praise be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures.[5] “Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 150:6 RSV).  All creation shares with us the worship of God, the worship which will bring us all together as one with God, allowing us to commune with God and receive the beatitude which we all seek.

[1] Salvian the Presbyter, “The Governance of God” in The Writings of Salvian the Presbyter. Trans. Jeremiah F. O’Sullivan (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1962), 106-7.

[2] There is, of course, a sense that this joy will also increase in eternity, as communion establishes theosis, and those who are united with God are constantly being raised up beyond themselves.

[3] There is a debate as to which animals, if any, can be shown to have religious, or proto-religious forms of ritualistic activity. James Harrod, for example, suggested chimpanzees demonstrate such behavior (see James Harrod, “The Case for Chimpanzee Religion” in the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 8.1 (2014): 8-45.) Funeral rituals, found with some animals, such as elephants and dolphins, also suggest possible religious activities.

 [4] Andrew Linzey, Animal Gospel (Louisville, KY: Westminster Knox Press, 2000), 142.

[5] St. Francis of Assisi, “The Canticle of the Creatures” in Francis of Assisi: The Early Documents. I. The Saint. Ed. Regis J. Armstrong, J.A. Wayne Hellmann, and William J. Short (New York: New City Press, 1999), 113.


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