O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. (Psalm 63:1-4)
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:7-9)
The news about the massive earthquake in Japan is now into its third day. The death toll rises sickeningly and the whole world seems to be crying out in pain. Many churches today will bring that pain before God in prayer.
When a tragedy like this strikes, people don’t usually blame the earth. They might blame God or global warming or some other source outside of the actual event, but the earth is not typically the culprit. We expect the earth to do what it does, even when we recognize the human suffering that might result.
Psalm 63 is framed as a Psalm of David when he was in the wilderness. This was a man who had seen the glory and beauty of the Jewish Temple and had worshipped God in it. In his displacement he reflects on those experiences, recognizes his circumstances, and engages in worship. He is without the familiar surroundings and trappings of his faith community, and his soul thirsts. He affirms, however, that the love of God surpasses life itself, and so David worships.
It is difficult to worship God during a time of pain and loss. The questions of why? haunt us and we try to find meaning in the hard experiences of our lives. Some of those experiences of life are consequential; we humans often take actions that produce destructive results. But something like an earthquake is not one of those things. The earth is a dangerous place and when it does what it does, we often suffer.
The Bible repeatedly speaks of God’s love and care for the whole of creation. Yet, the creation itself (including human beings) is fractured and wounded. Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God, proclaiming and demonstrating the victory of God over all evil, yet God’s rule and reign is over an earth that is deeply damaged. The Bible maintains that God intends for a better day to come.
Psalm 98 describes the future coming of God’s judgment of the world, but not as a judgment of anger or condemnation. Instead, it is seen as a judgment of righteousness and equity. It is a judgment that sets all wrongs to right, healing all wounds and reorienting the entire created order around the love and care of God. In that expectation, the physical aspects of the earth—seas, expanses of water, soil, rocks, and even tectonic plates—will rejoice. In the expectation that God will put all things right, the world trembles in anticipation.
In our world we have no shortage of tragedy, both natural and self-inflicted. We who follow Jesus worship regardless of circumstances, trusting our today to God, and anticipating a tomorrow when God’s intentions for a new heaven and new earth come to pass.
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