For those who want a change from the Gospel
Easter 7 – Ps 97
Those who are unfortunate enough to be my students will be absolutely sick of me telling them that God isn’t a God of love, he is a God of righteousness. In fact readers of my blog might be too. But the older I get the more I realise the importance of this idea, and the dreadful wrong turns the Church has taken by preaching a God of love more fervently than it has a God of righteousness. Of course the Bible does talk about God loving people, but only ever his people, the Jewish nation in the OT and Christians in the NT. This Psalm is yet another piece of proof that for God, right is more important than love. The assertion in v.2 that ‘righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne’ is the key idea in this Psalm, and makes sense of all the rest of it. In fact the only reference to love in the Psalm, in v.10, is about our love for God, not his for us. Yet we have lived and preached as though love was the foundation of his throne, and weakened ourselves as a result.
The text falls neatly into three parts, once we have understood its main message. In v.1-5 we see a display the splendour and glory of God, matchless in all the universe. V.6-9 describe the response of the created world to the power of God, and v.10-12 call forth individual response from those who have encountered this God.
The pictures in the opening section are powerful and striking. He lives in cloud and darkness. He isn’t our chum: there’s something about him which is mysterious and hidden. He wears darkness as a King wears royal robes. They mark out his transcendence, his ‘otherness’ from the world he has created. A king might have a herald going before him. Our God has fire and lightning. The created world trembles and melts back in the light of this display of his ultimate power and glory.
We are then invited to consider the contrast with the kinds of gods people actually worship. The only fire an idol might produce is when, as in Isaiah 44, some of it is burnt for fuel. Those who worship created things have no hope, no future. Even those false gods of wood and metal are called to join in with the true worship of created things for their Creator.
So what do we, his people, do in response to this magnificent and awesome display of God’s power? Interestingly, the first thing we are called to is not to love him, nor to be jolly impressed by the fireworks, but rather to cultivate a profound hatred of all that is evil. In an age where ‘tolerance’ is the highest virtue this is deeply counter-cultural. Like our God, enthroned on righteousness and justice, we are called to recognise what is wrong, call it out, and stay as far away from it as we can. In that way we will be saved from the wicked influences around us. It stands to reason: if we have been taught from childhood that, for example, drugs are bad, we will be much less likely to drift into their use than children who have been brought up with a tolerant attitude, and who have never bee forewarned.
There is no command here to love God. Rather there is the assumption that we do, and therefore we need to know how important it is that our lives are built on the same foundations as his throne. We are called to praise him and to rejoice in him, and thus to experience his joy.