Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Midweek Wonderings: Judgement and the Psalms

* Hopefully this can be a new feature for the summer! Midweek Wonderings will be more philosophical - but will talk about something I've been learning or reading or doing *

When I was in San Antonio a couple weeks ago, Karen let me spend $25 at Borders (pretty sweet, eh?) as a birthday present. I was looking for Henri Nouwen, but the religion section at Borders is pretty spare, so I couldn't find the one that had been recommended. Instead, I picked up a book by C. S. Lewis that I hadn't read before. The book is called "Reflections on the Psalms" (1958/1986)

In the intro, he mentions that he is not an expert on the Psalms, but that what insight or thoughts he might have could be helpful to others - the same way that two students working together can understand a concept more deeply sometimes than when a student asks a professor for help.

While sometimes my pal, Clive, is hard to understand (lets face it, he's a deeeeeeep guy), the first chapter of this book really resonated with me. The chapter was on the subject of "Judgement" and justice as found in the Psalms. I think because I have been learning a lot more about social justice this last year the chapter was even more poignant for me. Our God is a God of JUSTICE for the poor and oppressed!

C.S talks about how differently the psalmists talk about justice and judgement compared to Christians. Now, Christians have a perspective of individual and final judgement of our souls, but the psalmists did not live in post-Christ reality. C.S. suggests that the judgement the psalmists talk about has to do with actual earthly justice.

The psalmists look upon judgement with joy and longing, saying things like "all things shall rejoice before the Lord who comes to judge the earth." C.S. suggests that the psalmists are viewing themselves as plaintiffs in a court of law - bringing a case to the judge (rather than Christians who view themselves as a criminal defending themselves).

Listen to this, friends:
"In most places and times it has been difficult for the "small man" to get his case heard. The judge... has to be bribed. If you can't afford to "oil his palm" your case will never reach court. ... We need not therefore be surprised if the Psalms, and the Prophets, are full of the longing for judgement, and regard the announcement of judgement as good news. Hundreds and thousands of people who have been stripped of all they possess and who have the right entirely on their side will at last be heard. Of course they are not afraid of judgement. They know [that they are in the right and their case will be won] - if only they can be heard. [And] when God comes to judge, at last it will." (p.11)

And this:
"It supplements the Christian picture in one important way. ... Now the Jewish picture of a civil action sharply reminds us that perhaps we are faulty not only by the Divine standard (that is a matter of course) but also by a very human standard which all reasonable people admit and which we ourselves usually wish to enforce on others. Almost certainly there are unsatisfied claims, human claims, against each one of us. For who can really believe that in all his dealings with employers and employees, with husband or wife, with parents and children, in quarrels and in collaborations, he has always attained ... mere honesty or fairness? Of course, we forget most of the injuries we have done. But the injured parties do not forget even if they forgive. And God does not forget. And even what we remember is formidable enough...." (p.13)

He goes on to really challenge the reader about how many ways we have cheated our work, our friends, the government; how many ways we have have we not given justice to those around us.

What I took away from this chapter was not really a general conviction about my behavior. Perhaps as Christians we should always live in that tension and conviction, and I think that generally I do. But my take away was an increased awe and worship of God. When I think about who Jesus was to all people - men and women, rich and poor, sinner and pharisee - I remember how good he was, how he tried to rewrite the laws of justice to benefit and help the poor, powerless, and overlooked.

But as I look back at the Psalms and read this chapter, I am filled with joy and praise to God. God, Jehovah, is the Righteous Judge who will eventually right all wrongs. The prohet Joel says that the Lord will restore the years the locust has eaten. Elsewhere the writers of the bible say that the Lord will wipe every tear from our eye. There is a time coming when the Lord will restore the poor and oppressed, a time of real social justice will come when those who were unloved and overlooked in life will be blessed and comforted.

As you think about the quotes above, and read the psalms, what do you think about? Where do you see God's justice in the Old and New Testaments?


Erin O said...

Tiffani, it's funny that you are posting this today because I just got done reading and reflecting on the story in Luke about the persistent widow and musing on the "justice" part of this parable along with the unjust judge. I actually almost blogged my thoughts on it myself, but I still have a lot rattling around in my brain and haven't formed my own opinion on this with a lot of clarity as of yet.

I do know that the Lord has been speaking to me recently about how his character is FULLY, 100% just at the same time as being FULLY, 100% grace. We tend to emphasize one over the other depending on what we want from Him in the moment.

Anyway, look for my own blog in this issue probably in the next week or so. LOve you!

the hamster said...

i just learned of this blog. i haven't even read anything yet, cause it's after midnight and my reader-ies are shut down till morning. but i'm glad for this. and i'm adding you to my google reader, which means you are on the inner circle. schweet, friend. the wife and i mention you often in the still home here. we're both big fans.