Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Inevitable Course of History

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere him.
Psalm 67

Reflection – This is one of the psalms that, while perhaps not at ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ level of ubiquity, is nonetheless familiar to many, certainly to most regular church-goers. It comes up in the lectionary, the breviary, in hymnody. It is catchy, picturesque and even has the modern touch of its own built-in refrain, unusual in the psalter.

When we really look at this psalm, though, it is quite a radical vision of reality being presented here. When it was written Israel was a tiny little group of people surrounded by mostly hostile neighbours. The God of Israel was one god among many gods, and not necessarily the most compelling or impressive one, to an impartial observer.

After all, why wouldn’t the gods of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, or the Egyptians be the more persuasive ones, since all these nations were more powerful and successful than Israel? Why would ‘all peoples’ come to praise the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Who are they, anyway?

Somehow the psalmist, surely under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has broken through to some kind of deep insight. The God of Israel is, simply, God—the God of all peoples, of all the earth, and the inevitable course of history is for all men and women, all nations on earth to come to know and worship the one true God who fashioned all that is.

This is a religious and spiritual breakthrough that is hard for us, some 2500 years or so on the far side of it, to appreciate. To us it may even sound creepy, like the Islamists wanting to force everyone to embrace sharia law or something. But in the ancient world, where every tribe had its own gods, the result was not tolerance and peace but was total warfare and genocide. The ideal was not the ‘brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God’ because there was no one ‘God’ who was father of all.

So monotheism (besides being, ahem, the simple truth of the matter) is actually a force for peace and for the advancement of human rights (since all people are made in God’s image and likeness and have inherent dignity). And in fact, allowing for not infrequent terrible failures coming from human sin and greed, hatred and violence, the general movement of human history bears this out, I would say. The universal claims of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… and of Jesus Christ, have ultimately moved humanity in the direction of peace and unity. Those who would reject that claim are, I suggest, not very well-schooled in the subject of history.

This psalm is all the more radical now as so many of the formerly Christian nations of the world have decisively  rejected the God of Israel and of Jesus Christ and His claims on us, the moral law. And the prayer that ‘the peoples will praise you’ and the nations be guided by God’s laws is a poignant prayer in our day.

I don’t have any answers here—I wish I knew how to hold up the truth of God in such a way that all nations and peoples would be converted to it and enter the peace of God that He so wants to give us.

I know that the way forward has nothing to do with violence or compulsion. I know that all Christians must give themselves unstintingly to the path of mercy and love so as to show forth the beauty of truth and goodness, not merely their veracity and uprightness. It is beauty that converts the world, not logical argumentation, and beauty comes on the footsteps of mercy and tender compassion.

And so, let us pray this psalm with fervor and faith, but let us even more dedicate ourselves to the task of making known the way of God on the earth, in hopes of the day when all the ends of the earth will revere him.

1 comment:

  1. "Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other." ~ #CSLewis


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