Scripture: Psalm 97
Key verse: (1) “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice.”
Reflection: “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice.” So begins Psalm 97. It’s filled with joyous descriptions of all the ways the world glorifies God, and of all the ways God blesses the faithful for their witness; preserving the lives of the saints, delivering us from the hand of the wicked, etc. “Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart!” Isn’t that wonderful? Yet, is that the way the world works?
It seems our world is too often defined by war, poverty, injustice and illness. It can leave us wondering, “Does the Lord really reign? It sure doesn’t feel like it some days.” While the Psalmist asserts, “All worshipers of idols are put to shame,” it sure does seem like all our contemporary idols are thriving these days. Just a few weeks ago, 29 Egyptian Christians on their way to a monastery south of Cairo were murdered by ISIS terrorists. In response to this horror, Pope Francis pointed out, “Today there are more Christian martyrs than in ancient times.” I was shocked to hear that. How does that relate to Psalm 97’s assertion that the Lord, “guards the lives of his faithful?” Is the Psalmist blind to these realities?
In his book, The Psalms and the Life of Faith, Walter Brueggemann suggests there are three types of Psalms: psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation, and psalms of reorientation. Psalms of orientation often sound like Psalm 97. God is in his heaven and all is right with the world. Psalms of disorientation offer challenges to that positivism. They point out the suffering of the faithful and ask, “Where are you, O Lord?” One-third of the Psalms are laments that seek God’s presence in the midst of turmoil and suffering. These are psalms of disorientation. Then there are psalms of reorientation — that point to a new reality on the other side of suffering. Psalm 23 is perhaps the best example of this. It moves from the orientation of God as shepherd and everything being right with the world, to the disorientation of the valley of the shadow of death, where the speaker shifts to speaking to God instead of about God, then to reorientation around the God who provides a feast, even in the presence of enemies that threaten us.
Understood in this light, Psalm 97 could be proposing a new world, a world that works the way it is supposed to work. Perhaps in the midst of exile, where it did not feel like God was in charge in any way, singing this psalm of faith was part of singing a new reality into being. From the standpoint of faith, in the midst of a world that feels far removed from the justice of Psalm 97, we live toward the world it describes, rejoicing the Lord who promises to bring it, giving thanks to God’s holy name.
Prayer: “Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be thou our guard while life shall last, and our eternal home.” Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].