Man’s Rage, God’s Praise
MAN’S RAGE, GOD’S PRAISE
the important thing for us to do is not to consult our own reactions, emotional or otherwise, on this anniversary, but to bring this event before God
by William H. Smith
It’s too early to tell whether September 11, 2001, will prove to be “the day that changed America.” But there can be no doubt that it has had its impact on us, individually and corporately.
I found that, as we approached this anniversary, I experienced few emotions – conviction, yes, that those who perpetrated these acts of violence had committed great evil, and, yes, resolve that those responsible should be relentlessly rooted out and punished – but little in the way of emotion. Then last night my wife and I watched part of one of the many television programs produced to commemorate this date. And, as I watched the progression of the events and the impact on lives, I was left stunned by the enormity of the destruction, angered by the wickedness of the attacks, and saddened for the suffering of fellow citizens.
But the important thing for us to do is not to consult our own reactions, emotional or otherwise, on this anniversary, but to bring this event before God, that we might understand and respond in light His revelation of Himself in His Word. For that purpose I ask that we take a few moments to give our attention to the Psalm we have read, the 76th Psalm.
I. THE REALITY OF GOD (1-3)
We begin with the reality of God, as He is made known to us in this Psalm and in all of Scripture. The reality of God is quite different from the prevailing ideas about Him in our culture. But it does no good to seek or know or worship a God who does not exist except in our imaginations. It is in our interest to know the reality about God, whatever it is.
The God revealed in Psalm 76 is the God who revealed Himself to ancient Israel, who was worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem. “God is known in Judah.” The clear implication is that this God is known in Judah and nowhere else. In other words, there is no God except this God. In fact the Old Testament prophets insist on this everywhere – the only God who exists is Israel’s God and there is no god beside Him. This was a remarkable thing in the ancient world that believed in the existence of many gods and thought of various gods as ruling different powers of creation – such as the sun, moon, oceans and fields – and of different gods ruling different territories – such as a god of Assyria, a god of Egypt, or a god of Israel. But God Himself says, “I am God. There are no other gods except imaginary lifeless ones.”
This Psalm was written after a great victory Judah had won, a victory in which God, in a sense, “proved Himself” and vindicated Israel’s claims about Him. In the mind of the ancient pagan this would have been taken as proof that at least Israel’s God was on top for the moment. ‘If your god beats up our god, your god is greater,” was the way they thought. But the remarkable thing about the Old Testament is that it keeps on saying the same thing about Israel’s God when His people have experienced devastating defeat and unspeakable horror. At the lowest point of the covenant people’s history, God claimed, through the prophet Daniel, that He, Israel’s God has an everlasting kingdom and that He does what He wants to do in heaven and on earth. The religion of the Old Testament is an exclusive one.
Lest we think this view that there is only one real and true God is confined to the Old Testament, we find the same thing in the New Testament where we get the final and complete revelation of God with the coming of Christ. Jesus Himself taught that there is no God but the God of Israel and that no one can approach that God except through Himself. The Apostles proclaimed, “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”
We have heard much about diversity and tolerance since September 11. There were in the aftermath of September 11 many inter-faith services in which people of many religions came together to mark the event and supposedly to seek God together. Similar services are being held in connection with this anniversary. One of the local television stations reported on an inter-faith service held last night. It is certainly true that Christians believe in religious tolerance. We do not wish to deprive others of religious freedom. But we do not believe that all religions are valid. We cannot come together with those who follow other religions to worship a generic, all-purpose, undefined, least common denominator God. Let us say it clearly: the God of Islam does not exist nor does the God of any other religion. There is no God but the God of the Bible and the God who is in Jesus Christ. This is the reality of God. This is the God whom we seek tonight. And we invite all people to seek and to know this God. Christianity is not only an exclusive religion but also a missionary religion that proclaims to all men and women everywhere that the God who is there is a God who can be known because He has make Himself known in the Bible and in Jesus Christ.
II. THE WRATH OF GOD (4-9)
This God who really exists reveals Himself in this Psalm to be a God of wrath. Verses 4-6 reveal God’s wrath executed against the Assyrian armies that attacked Jerusalem. We read tonight how, despite all their overwhelming strength and all their proud boasting, God wiped them out so that they could cause His people no harm. They came in all their wrath against Judah, but they were met by the wrath of God for which they were no match. Verses 7-9 broaden the scope to God’s universal justice and God’s universal execution of His wrath. These verses even look forward to God final judgment a day described and guaranteed by the book of Revelation as the day of the wrath of the Lamb and the great day of wrath. Even know the nations are raging against God, but the wrath of the nations will be consumed in a moment when the day of God’s wrath arrives.
This truth of the wrath of God is not a popular truth about God. In fact there are Christians who are uncomfortable with this truth and some who would say that they could never bring themselves to believe in such a God. Let me assure you that that does not bother God in the least.
Now when we think about the wrath of God we have to remember that is nothing like human wrath – which can be arbitrary, unjust, and out of control. God is never arbitrary, never unfair, and never losses control. With that understood, let me also tell you why the revelation that God is a God of wrath is important.
First, the wrath of God is necessary for God’s goodness, righteousness, and justice. It is impossible to conceive of a God who is good who is infinitely tolerant of evil, or of a God of righteousness who is infinitely tolerant of unrighteousness, or of a God of justice who is infinitely tolerant of injustice. If God is good and righteous and justice there has to be a reckoning when the right is vindicated and the wrong is punished. There are those who are offended by our President’s casting of the events of last September 11 in terms of good and evil. People who respond in that way are among the many in the western societies who have lost confidence that there is any such thing as objective right and wrong. It is these same people who are offended by God’s wrath for they do not believe He has any right to wrath since there is no such thing as good and righteousness and justice. But God believes in these things and His wrath in the normal and necessary response to evil, unrighteousness, and injustice.
Second, the wrath of God is important if we ever hope to see things put right in this world. There is much that is wrong that is never corrected. There is much injustice where justice never comes to bear. Many innocent people suffer and are never vindicated.
But the wrath of God tells us that God sees all this, that He takes account of it all, and that one day, when the time He has appointed comes, He will act to put it all right. This enable us to live knowing that life is not meaningless and that all is not hopeless. Suppose Osama Ben Laden is alive today and is never apprehended and brought to justice. Or, think of all the evil men who vented their wrath against God and against the human race and were never held accountable by any human tribunal. Does that mean they got away with it. Not as long as there exists a God of justice and wrath. Now we can sometimes sing only these words: “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.” That is comforting – to know that God is in control. But someday we will sing, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath has came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for the rewarding of your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth” (Rev. 11:17,18). There is going to be a day of perfect justice – day which shall never end. All that is wrong will be put eternally right.
III. THE RESPONSE OF GOD (10-12)
God is a God of wrath, but He has no delight in the death and destruction of the wicked. Nor should we. In the closing verses of the Psalm God shows us the right human response to His reality and wrath.
1] The first response is to recognize that this God will get praise to Himself from literally everything, including the wrath of man. Have you ever seen a little boy flailing away in anger at his father, while the father holds his hand firmly on the little boy’s forehead so that all the blows are for nothing. The little boy may be full of rage, but he cannot touch his father. All his rage and flailing accomplish nothing but to show the bigness and strength and superiority of the father. This is the way it is with the wrath of man. It serves ultimately only to show how great God is.
The greatest example of the seemingly unmitigated wrath of man was the crucifixion of Christ. There it seemed that the world at last had God by the throat and was venting all its venomous wrath against Him. But, as a matter of fact, the wrath of man was accomplishing nothing more than what God had planned – God had predestined it all, even the rage of man. And God got glorified, for it was at the cross that God showed the greatness of His wisdom, love, and power, as in Christ He accomplished the salvation of a vast multitude of otherwise wrath deserving sinners. We sinners who are redeemed at the cross shall spend an eternity praising the God who accomplished our redemption through the wrath of man.
And if God is praised by the wrath of man at the cross, we know that in the end God will be praised by all the vicious and foolish demonstrations of man’s wrath. I do not know how, but God shall be glorified in the attacks on the World Trade Center Towers and on the Pentagon. God will get glory from Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot, and Osama Ben Laden.
2] Second, we who are God’s people should respond by pledging our loyalty to Him for his great works of salvation on our behalf. We should vow to Him our faithfulness and put ourselves and all that we are and have at the His disposal. Even for God’s people God is not a God to be messed with. We must take Him seriously. We must fear Him and serve Him. If we are spared His wrath, the very displays of His wrath in history and at the cross of Christ should fill us with awe and inspire us to worhip.
3] But, finally, there is an invitation to all the earth, even to kings and peoples now in rebellion against God, and venting their wrath against Him. It is not too late for them to come and submit themselves to Him and to be included among those to whom He shows mercy. May I say this? It is not too late for Osama Ben Laden, if he is still alive, to come and in faith submit himself to God and so escape His wrath. You and I might wish that God were not so merciful, but He is, and that’s good. That’s good, for it means hope for me and hope for you. I deserve God’s wrath as much as does Osama Ben Laden, and, frankly, you do, too. But there is mercy for us because at the cross God, in His mysterious love for enraged sinners turned His wrath against His Son for a moment. And in that moment of wrath against the Son, God accomplished eternal salvation for God-haters. At the cross God’s love and His wrath met each other and made peace and showed the glory each of the other. His love led him to satisfy His own wrath in the Person of His beloved Son. Nobody ever loved a Son as God loved His. Why He should turn His wrath toward His Son and not toward us only His love can explain. If we turn in faith to that Son, we will never know the wrath of God. Only His limitless mercy and grace.
What kind of God is this – a God who gets praise in the rage of man against Him? He is the God of the Bible, the God in Christ, the real God and God of wrath and salvation who will get the praise no matter what.
WILLIAM H. SMITH
Westminster PCA, Huntsville, Alabama.
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