January 21, 2001
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
When we were young - my brother and sisters and I - dad would tell us stories at night time as we were getting ready for bed. As stories they may not have been great, but the inviting thing about them was that we were in them. The kid facing a dragon in a fight to the death was not Gandalf the wizard, but me. The person who foiled the criminals and helped the police was not Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I. Nothing gets our attention so much as when a story is about us
Psalm 76 is a 27 line poem not about us, but about God. What is the Psalmist doing leaving out what most interests us, which is having ourselves in the story
One of the times we become interested, really interested, in someone beyond ourselves is when we fall in love. We think about that person a lot. If you're a man, you call her, write letters, write poetry. If the poetry isn't particularly good - none of mine was - yet those attempts put someone else at the center of the world. Love is one of God's answers to self-centeredness. In fact, the problem with affairs, with adultery, fornication and homosexual sex is that it is self-centered. Divorce is often the result of coming to realize you're no longer at the center of this other person's life, or that you want to be at the center of your life, doing what you want to do, so you get divorced, or you leave.
There is another experience where someone becomes more important to us than ourselves. This is when we meet God in Jesus Christ. Meeting God is as life-changing as falling in love with a young woman or a young man. When people meet God, they meet someone who loves them. At some point before we become Christians, people are likely to think that it is only proper that God love them since they are so lovable. But God not only loves us, He helps us to come to a right view of ourselves so we can come to that point where we see ourselves for the self-centered people we are. Amazingly we see that God still loves us in spite of our self-centeredness. In fact there is a sentence in John's Gospel that says, "God loved people in the world so much he gave his only Son - whom He loved - gave him over to death, so that whoever comes to trust God's Son will not perish in his self-centeredness, but will gain eternal life." Now that's what the verse means. If you know John 3:16, you see that I have edited it to give it a meaning that is true in the context of what Psalm 76 is saying.
When we meet God we discover a person who changes our perceptions and our hearts as much as the woman or man we come to love. Let us consider Calvin and Hobbes!
Calvin, in his pajamas, is standing on the stairs, calling out to his dad in a loud voice, "Dad, I want a bedtime story!" From downstairs his dad replies, "I'm busy, Calvin. I'll read you one tomorrow." To which Calvin replies in a louder voice, "If you don't read me a story, I won't go to bed!"
So Calvin's dad goes up to his room, tucks Calvin into bed with Hobbes and, in italics, Calvin's dad reads, "Once upon a time there was a boy named Calvin, - note that the dad, using an old dad trick, includes his son in the story - who always wanted things his way. One day his dad got sick of it and locked him in the basement for the rest of his life. Everyone else lived happily ever after. The End."
The dad leaves and Calvin turns to Hobbes and says, "I don't like these stories with morals."
What is God like?
Psalm 76 describes God in four ways and finally the Psalm actually says something about us, as we shall discover. Now when we meet someone we love, our friends say about us, "he worships the ground she walks on." And Psalm 76 is a statement about worshiping, about worshiping God. It is God seen through the eyes of someone who loves Him.
1. The first way the Psalm describes God we find in verse 1, "God is known in Judah." God is known in Judah because He has revealed himself to the Jews, to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants. You know when a guy gets interested in a young woman, he magically appears in places where she is. It's no accident that this guy hands you, the young lady, a soda at a dorm party and hangs around to talk. He's been observing you for sometime. God is like that, but God loves us all and He reveals himself to people in whom He is interested. He shows up in their lives.
When Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, He says to her at one point, "you worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews." At that point Jesus is saying the same thing Psalm 76:1 says, "God is known in Judah."
2. But not only is God known, in verse 4 the God who is known is glorious. Or, as the New International Version puts it, "you are resplendent with light."
We are often troubled in our lives wondering which way to go. Which choice is right? The choices we have seem so dark. How are we going to figure it out? God is important for us because He provides light for our path. In Isaiah 10:17 God is called "the light of Israel." In Psalm 27:1, God is spoken of in this way, "the Lord is my light and my salvation." So basically the fact that God is light means that He is glorious and when we love Him He will always encourage us to do right things by showing us in a clear light the right way. But God being resplendent with light means something else. He is Himself light. He shimmers. He radiates. He is like the sun. He can't be mistaken for any other being. This is like what happened to Jesus at His transfiguration.
3. Thirdly, verse 4, God is majestic, or the word might mean, "mighty" like the waters of the Red Sea swirling and roaring back over the Egyptian chariots in Exodus 15:10. Or mighty like the great cedars of Ezekiel 17:23. In Psalm 76 God is more majestic or mightier than the mountains.
I have stood in western Wyoming admiring the Grand Tetons as they rise above the flat land to the east, and I have looked at Mt. Rainier rising above the clouds south and east of Seattle. They provide a picture of what the song, "America" says, "for purple mountains' majesty above the fruited plains." But Psalm 76 says, God is more majestic than the mountains.
So what is happening here is the Psalmist is talking about pictures which hold us in thrall, light and majestic mountains, and he is using those pictures to talk about God.
4. His last description of God is in both verses 7 and 12, "awesome", translated by the New International Version as "feared". Now "feared", or even "awesome" doesn't fit as a description of someone we love except in the eviscerated expression we use to describe certain entertainers or certain scenes from films, "totally awesome." Whatever totally awesome means, 'feared" is not a synonym for it.
Let me give you my sense of what the word "awesome" or "feared" means in this passage. There is a scene in C. S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where the children have come into Narnia and they are taken to the home of Mr. And Mrs. Beaver. In their talk Mr. Beaver excitedly speaks about Aslan and the hints that he is coming so that the children come to share his excitement. Then the children discover that Aslan is a lion - which is the way God is described in verse 2 of the Psalm where we could translate the words, "his lair is in Salem" - "Ooh, says Susan, "I thought he was a man. Is he - quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous meeting a lion."
"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," says Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
That's the way God is. He is to be feared because He will have us do things we don't want to do, or get us into situations we don't like in our self-centeredness, but which we can't back out of. And yet He is good and He does not waste these experiences. He brings hard things for our good, in order that we might become more like Him.
Now this brings us finally to verse 11, the one sentence in this Psalm which talks about us. We finally get into the story, but in a particular way. "Make vows," verse 11 tells us. Okay, you want to know what your part is. You have loved this person. Now you stand up before God and your friends at a wedding and you make vows to this other person whom you have come to love. And you make the vows for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death us do part.
Now you've all read about the divorce statistics in America. You know something about how many people break their marriage vows. These sorts of lines appear in cartoons all the time: "oh, but he's so much worse than I took him for."
So? And here people are, back in the me-first mode that marriage could deliver you from but it hasn't. Now I know there are all kinds of hard circumstances in marriage, but what if the one you make your vows to is God? What do you have to complain about in Him? And what wrong has He done you? Well, He won't allow you to be the center of the story again.
Fulfill the vows you make to the Lord your God, verse 11 says. Israel didn't do that in the Sinai peninsula, though God had delivered them from long years of slavery in Egypt. And they died in the desert. And what do you imagine will be your end when you choose yourself as the center of the story, instead of God, and when you can't stop having yourself the hero? The very character of what we are in sin is that we don't want to share the spotlight with anyone else including God.
Calvin is in his tree house, with a paper hat on his head, and he is saying, "As dictator, I have the sole voice in government! I will not tolerate dissent! I alone shall decide the good! I alone shall...." And at that point his mother appears below and says, "Time for bed, Calvin." And as she is hauling him away under her arm, Calvin says, "couldn't we vote on this?"
Isn't that the way we feel? Isn't that the way we are? But God is the king and He is known among us because He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. We might choose to ignore this Word, but a lot of good that will do when He brings us to account saying, "time for bed!"