Ever since I was young I always enjoyed the hymn, "This is My Father's World." It's a bouncy tune [I'm displaying my ignorance of music by using a term so non-technical as "bouncy"] with vivid imagery and a hopeful, positive quality. But it dawned on my today that the concluding line is from a psalm that portrays God as anything but, well, bouncy. "God reigns; let the earth be glad," the concluding line of the hymn, is indeed the first line of Psalm 97. And though the psalm tells us to rejoice, it goes on to present horrifying imagery:
Clouds and thick darkness surround him;Theologically uninformed people often go around talking about "the God of the Old Testament," as if that God were indeed a different one than the God of Jesus and Christianity. In fact, one of the Church's earliest heretics, the second-century bishop Marcion, taught basically this exact same thing -- that the Old Testament was about one God, and the New Testament was about another. We know (or should know) that this is not the case. But it is still hard to reconcile the imagery of these verses with our view of a gentle God, such as the hymn itself praises:
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and consumes his foes on every side.
His lightning lights up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all peoples see his glory.
This is my Father's world,But look again, after the destructive language of Psalm 97 -- mountains melting like wax, foes consumed by fire -- we see the hope:
the birds their carols raise,
the morning light, the lily white,
declare their maker's praise.
Zion hears and rejoicesOne can't help but be reminded of Jesus' words in Luke 21, "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." This psalm is eschatological, it has to do with the end of time and judgment, whether a literal end of time or a moment of redemption for the people or Israel. Either way, the psalm is to be seen as one of hope, that even when things are at their worst for the people of God, we can remember that God always has the last word, and he is powerful enough to handle anything that comes against us. If mountains can't stand in his way, if his lightening lights up the world, then when he is on our side, what can come against us in the long run?
and the villages of Judah are glad
because of your judgments, LORD.
For you, LORD, are the Most High over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods...
Light shines on the righteous
and joy on the upright in heart.
And as bouncy as the hymn may sound, it concludes with the very same message, because Jew or Christian, Old Testament or New, the One God rules heaven and earth, and of that we can rejoice indeed:
O let me ne'er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father's world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!