Power Grab

What shall I say? So many things to say. I’ve been struggling with what to say, what to pray, during the course of the last few weeks, as riots and protests have broken out across the country, bitterly dividing it down racial, political, and ideological lines. Honestly, I’ve been guarding my heart and mind during these days. I am careful with them, what I let in and out, what I let influence me. There is so much division and strife circulating in the news and on social media. On any given day I feel a mix of emotions that range from anger, fear, angst, intimidation, sadness, and grief, just for starters.  I feel worse when I pay attention to the many voices in the arena. I am better when I turn to God’s Word to look for answers, direction, wisdom, solace – something to rise above the human tensions tearing at each other, tearing to divide and conquer. It hurts so much to be human.

Coinciding with these circumstances, I have been reading and studying the Psalms. Thankfully, one does not have to venture very deeply into the Psalter to find an immediate remedy for the heavy burden many of us carry in our hearts. Psalm 2 offers solid ground on which to stand, when it feels like our foundation is crumbling. Psalm 2 is a political poem. It addresses both the popular and political influences that seek to gain and wield power in the public domain. More importantly, it encourages and provides hope for us who wonder how our voices will be heard, how peace can be achieved in such chaos.

Here are my reflections on Psalm 2:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

We are in a rage, are we not? The fires have been stoked by the events, reactions, and power struggles associated with the death of George Floyd. So much so, we are choking on the fumes. We gorge ourselves on strife and division, fed to us by news outlets, political commentary and social media, until we are glutted with hate. But we are not satiated. Collectively, our nation is seething with indignation and angst. But also fear. Fear that, as individuals, we are too small, too powerless, to change this destructive course.

During this siege on our sanity and civility, many voices run to the podium to grab that indecent opportunity of power that is ready to explode in the moment. Everyone has an answer, a solution, a voice to shame another. They look for the moment of weakness to make their move. The “powers that be” in the world appear numerous and well-funded. They plot and scheme to advance their agendas. They shout with their BIG VOICES and wave their BIG STICKS. A word of warning to the wise: be careful before you pick a side and go rushing off to join the ranks of power, of influence, of self-righteousness. The psalmist tells us that they plot in vain, for they seek power on their own terms, freedom apart from God’s ways. Their stance is not indifferent, it is opposed to God. It will all come to naught. “Liberation comes only from serving the One who created us. Those people and forces that appear to rule the world are all under his Lordship, and one day they will know it.”[1]

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

Here is what they have forgotten in their self-engorged rise to the top – the largeness of God. He is enthroned in heaven, immeasurably larger and indefinably more powerful than their diminutive empire of influence. All nations and their histories are under his authority and governance, and they rise and fall under his dominion. It may draw a bemused smile on His face, their sheer ignorance and miscalculation of His Magnitude. But in the end, their persistent and arrogant opposition to God will draw his wrath.

We tend to think of greatness in terms of acquisition, consumption. We think power is measured by control. Is that not what we see in our news today? A struggle for power to gain control of votes, opinions, mindsets, even memory. But none of it involves real freedom or peace, the kind that comes from within. We are foolish to think that what we want can be acquired or consumed by force. There is a whole other way.

 I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

God says, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill”. He is about to show us what true greatness and power really look like. He is talking about his Anointed One, the King of Kings, his Beloved Son, who would come in the person of Jesus to the holy hill in Jerusalem and make the greatest power grab of all time. To him, God will give all nations as a heritage, the whole earth will be his possession, and be subdued under his rule. But it will not come by brutality, or armed forces, or by mob, or by riot, or by bribes, or intimidation, or shaming. All power and authority will be his when he lays down his life . It will be the only act that will forgive the sins that ravage our human souls. Sins of greed and pride, sins of hatred and violence and prejudice. Sins of injustice. In giving his life for the redemption of a guilty people, he is the means and the way for forgiveness, reconciliation, real equality, true justice and deep peace. He is everything we reach out our grimy hands for now, clasping to gain hold, and yet somehow missing, because we forget him in it. We thrust ourselves into the public arena with our GREAT BIG IDEAS of how to save the country and the world, and yet do not bow down to the only ONE who can make it possible.

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

The psalmist quiets our angry, agitated hearts as he draws his poem to a close. “Kiss the Son,” adore him, honor him, rejoice (even with trembling) that the victory has already been accomplished. Love came down to enter our turbulent world. Judgement was served on the Cross. Peace comes again and again in Living Christ. We are FREE! And these things will come in their fullness when Christ comes again. This is where we are to take refuge – not in BIG VOICES and BIG STICKS, but in Him! We rest our weary hearts because we no longer have to grasp at the reins of power to prove our relevance, our worth or value. He has already done that for us. And now He shows us a better way. “Love one another, as I have loved you.”[2]

What shall we do with the BIG VOICES and the BIG STICKS? They are only the empty bellows of school yard bullies who know nothing of true greatness and power. But in Christ, we do! As we take our refuge in him, he dwells more fully in us. What shall we do now? Laugh at them, perhaps? Cling to God’s ways. Reject the lies of those who seek to divide and devour. Love and serve others in humility and dignity. Forgive others who hurt us. Love and serve others in humility and dignity (some more). Trust in God’s perfect governance in each circumstance, even in the smallest details, and Kiss the Son.

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?

Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
 who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

        excerpts from Isaiah 40

[1] Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus (Viking Press, 2015), p.2.

[2] John 15:12