Divine Mediocrity

Seeing God's Hand in the Mundane

My Alaskan treasure doesn’t look like much. It is an extraordinarily ordinary rock. Over the years I have collected an assortment of rocks to commemorate vacations and hikes. Each possesses some quality that makes it stand out. Not this rock. After carefully examining this keepsake, my son commented, “Dad, that’s not one of your better rocks.”

What makes this rock special is not its color or shape, but its connection to the power that formed it. While in Alaska to celebrate our 25th anniversary, Cindy and I became enthralled with glaciers. We kayaked to a glacier and watched it calve; hiked on a glacier and marveled at the ice formations; flew over a glacier and gawked at the earth being moved. Glaciers are awesome and do awesome things. They have scooped out the Great Lakes, flattened the Great Plains, and sculpted the Grand Tetons.

A glacier’s power is also visible on a smaller scale. As glaciers scour the earth, rocks are dragged across immovable bedrock. Usually these rocks move with the glacier, but sometimes they get trapped between the glacier and the bedrock. In those cases, the rock is ground against the rough bedrock, leaving one side flattened and scratched. My rock was partially buried near the edge of a glacier. After digging it out I was thrilled to discover a flattened and scratched side. My Alaskan treasure is no ordinary rock; it is a “glacial rock.” Its connection to the glacier gives it unique value, far beyond the superficial qualities of color, shape, and composition.

Dr. Maynard Miller, a geologist at the University of Idaho, has devoted his life to studying glaciers. Every summer, students spend months with him on the ice fields near Juneau, Alaska. His favorite expression is “Don’t just look, see.” See the forces at work in the things you observe. “Nature is screaming at us,” Miller says, “you just have to understand what it’s showing you.” The psalmist understands that nature is screaming the glory of God.

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven” (Ps. 148:13).

In Psalm 148, thirty realities in heaven and earth are called to praise the power that formed them. “Praise” comes from the Latin word for “price.” To praise something is to declare or reveal its worth. For example, my rock praised the glacier by displaying its power on its flattened side. There are some surprising members on the Psalm 148 praise team. Most surprising of all is the inclusion of “creeping things” (“small creatures,” NIV) in verse 10. In Leviticus 11:41 such creatures are declared “detestable.” But God does not disdain the praise of the lowly.

When the lowly lift up God’s name, they too are exalted. A mediocre rock connected to an awesome glacier becomes something special, a glacial rock. The glacier conveys some of its glory to the rock that praises it. A dismal reality connected to a sovereign God becomes something magnificent, a holy misery. That was Paul’s experience. He looked at his thorn in the flesh and prayed that God would remove it. God said, “Don’t just look, see; my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s eyes were opened: “I will boast about my weaknesses.”

Our lives are plagued with mediocrities—things that aren’t very good. Psalm 148 invites us to see these common realities in a new way, to see the hand of God in our mediocrities and notice the way they praise their Creator and Redeemer. When the connection is made and the imprint of God is perceived, a mediocre reality is transformed into something that is simply divine. 

Jim Holwerda (jimholwerda@yahoo.com) is an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church serving as chaplain for the residential addiction programs at Pine Rest Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is a member of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church.