Why do the nations rant?
Why do the peoples rave uselessly?
2 The earth’s rulers take their stand;
the leaders scheme together
against the Lord and
against his anointed one.
3 “Come!” they say.
“We will tear off their ropes
and throw off their chains!”
4 The one who rules in heaven laughs;
my Lord makes fun of them.
5 But then God speaks to them angrily;
then he terrifies them with his fury:
6 “I hereby appoint my king on Zion,
my holy mountain!”
7 I will announce the Lord’s decision:
He said to me, “You are my son,
today I have become your father.
8 Just ask me,
and I will make the nations your possession;
the far corners of the earth will be your property.
9 You will smash them with an iron rod;
you will shatter them like a pottery jar.”
10 So kings, wise up!
Be warned, you rulers of the earth!
11 Serve the Lord reverently—
trembling, 12 kiss his feet[a]
or else he will become angry,
and your way will be destroyed
because his anger ignites in an instant.
But all who take refuge in the Lord are truly happy!
I have to admit in many ways this text makes me flinch, or it did when I first read it.
So much language of violence — smashing people like pottery, hitting them with an iron rod. And the language of God’s appointed king…. And bowing or pandering to him. It makes me nervous. It sounds so much like the hyper-patriotism I saw sweep across our country following 9/11: a call to blindly support whatever war comes to mind — whether in the middle east or within our borders against immigrants or even the war on drugs — in the name of “love of country,” without taking the time to think, pray, and discern “is this just? is this fair? is this necessary? will this bring more healing and wholeness, or deepen despair throughout our world?” Such language as is used here in Psalm 2 was certainly used to prop up petty dictators, kings, and those politically ascendant, from time immemorial.
Yet recently I have come to see how this verse can be a positive one in the face of resistance to oppression. This year so many important threads of the fabric of our life together have been assaulted — the rights of women, the call to care for the poor, the rights of immigrants, the rights of people in the queer community — in the name of political expedience. We as a society are being pulled by people in power to choose insensitivity, to embrace oppression of and exclusion of others, to build walls against those difference, and to embrace paths of violence.
Many of us feel powerless. And yet we are told, in the center of life, there is One at work to right all of this. We need not be afraid, for God does not cower but laughs. God is certain that injustice, deception, violence, is not the final answer and will not last.
As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said in his famous speech,
“So however difficult it is during this period, however difficult it is to continue to live with the agony and the continued existence of racism, however difficult it is to live amidst the constant hurt, the constant insult and the constant disrespect, I can still sing we shall overcome. We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.
“We shall overcome because Carlisle is right. “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right. “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right. “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet that scaffold sways the future.” We shall overcome because the Bible is right. “You shall reap what you sow.” With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
For me I see glimpses of this hope and this Scripture helps me embrace them.
This is not just true in the political arena, too.
In my own life I find at times many voices of fear, anxiety, loss, and despair shake me. They clamor for attention. And yet God is not shaken. God is not afraid. In those moments, this text calls me to trust that God has it in God’s hands.
Seen as a counter to these voices in my life, I can see those God opposes as not people but forces, what the Bible calls the powers, patterns and systems of oppression that push us to reject our own worth and the worth of others, to give into patterns of distraction and destruction. These powers are at the root of the oppression which has had a rising tide in our country this last year. But these powers also are present in my own inner voice of fear and despair, which questions if there is enough goodness around for me,
too. That voice calls me to despair that I am worth the good things and opportunities I work hard for in my relationships, in my work life, in my family. That voice leads me to jump ahead without trusting God’s call to patient inner work, to faithful working through processes in my relationships and life. That voice leads me to throw up my hands at the difficult work of justice, peace making, and reconciliation, our faith calls us to join in. That voice calls me also to choice to exclude, put down, and belittle. That voice also more subtly can whisper in my ear “go ahead and fight for justice” but call me to do so in a way that dehumanizes those whose choices perpetuate injustice. In demonizing them, I cannot reach out in reconciling love.
Oh God, help us to trust our life in your hands.
Help me to know that if I am faithful working together with you on the processes of healing and new beginning in my life, you will be faithful in bringing that good work to completion, to fullness and harvest.
Help me to trust that you are at work in the long view, and that if we continue to speak, act, listen, show up, and care, this injustice will just be the birth pangs whose labor produce a new birth of justice.