I spent some time pouring over the newspaper during the past few days. War continues to rage in Syria, Gaza, and Afghanistan. The protests are getting more heated in Cairo. The economic crisis in Europe is deepening. We are worried in the U.S. about the “fiscal cliff.” Most Americans are not more hopeful that the next generation will have it better than the current one. Fear and anxiety seem to rule the day.
There are two Psalms in the Bible that begin in identical ways, but with different proposed responses. They both begin with a stated fact. They both command a certain response that is both troubling and encouraging. Psalm 97:1 says, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad.” The Hebrew word for “reign” signifies that God is acting as a king. The psalmist is telling us that God rules, He acts as sovereign king over creation. The “earth”and “coastlands” serve as symbols for the inhabitants of those geographical descriptors. The proper response that is commanded as a consequence of this ruling is joy and gladness. This can be true because of what we learn in v.2, that God is a perfectly righteous and just ruler. The notion of joy here is to be an intense joy, experienced both individually and corporately as a community of believers. This joy is not simply emotion, but a quality grounded in God Himself and extended to us. To be “glad” is very similar to the idea of joy. This word serves to intensify this quality of what is to be experienced and expressed. We can experience and express joy exactly because God perfectly rules over all of creation. The knowledge of His righteous and just kingship should provide us with a sure foundation for walking through whatever we encounter.
Psalm 99:1 says, “The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble!” Again, we have the same statement of fact that God rules as King from a righteous and just foundation. But this time the commanded response is to tremble. To “tremble” can mean to be shaken, to be disturbed, to be in dread. It can also have the connotation of being excited. If we were to read down in verse 3 we would see this time that the response is rooted in God’s holiness. The picture here is of a high, exalted, and lofty God that is over any mere man. Therefore, we are to tremble at His kingship. This kind of dread is not out of fear because of a tyrannical ruler. This reverence is because He is perfectly holy and we are not. Whenever you see a human being who comes in contact with the living God in the Bible they immediately fall prostrate before Him. That is a natural response of sinfulness and brokeness before holiness.
I believe both responses are proper. As we see chaos all around us on the world stage and in our personal lives, we must focus on the sure knowledge that God reigns. That knowledge, based upon God’s righteousness, justice, and holiness, should elicit both great joy and great fear. We can be confident that nothing surprises God. Nothing catches Him off guard. He is not wringing His hands over the state of the world. He reigns! He is in control! Therefore, you and I can exhibit intense joy and intense reverence simultaneously. We would be wise and right to do so.
With that understanding I can read the newspaper of the world and the newspaper of my life differently.