Monday, August 06, 2007

Psalm 92 and Rejoicing in the Death of Sinners

I was at a church last night, which I'm not going to name. Unusually, they had an ordinand (like me) preaching, but not from my college. He was speaking from Psalm 92 and some of what he said was good and helpful, but other bits weren't.

His main points were:

  • we should be glad because of God's works (v1-5)
  • we should be glad because of God's victory (v6-11)
  • we should be glad because of God's blessing (v12-15)

Nothing wrong with that. Being glad because of God's works was especially well handled. Yes, chunks of it were lifted from Piper's discussion of CS Lewis, but there's nothing wrong with that once in a while.

What annoyed (and surprised) me was one of his applications of the second point. The Psalm is rejoicing in the future destruction of the wicked who oppose both God and the royal/priestly Psalmist. One of the ways the preacher applied that was to our response to people who sleep around - essentially implying that we should respond by rejoicing in their future destruction!

Now to my mind, that isn't even Christian. Yes, the guy is probably a Christian and didn't mean to say that or got mixed up or something, but it's an outrageous thing to say. Much much much better to see ourselves as naturally God's enemies (which he didn't mention) and recipients of God's blessing only by grace. Thankfully, the service leader drew it back that way afterwards.

If we're going to apply passages like that to "enemies" today, it should be enemies who oppose God's people and God. But I don't think applying it even to Richard Dawkins works. We shouldn't rejoice in his future destruction.

God does not delight in the death of the wicked, but rather that they should turn from their wickedness and live.
Book of Common Prayer

So how should we apply it? The obvious answer is to our spiritual enemies. After all, our struggle is not against flesh and blood...

And then I got thinking. There are quite a few examples in the Old Testament of rejoicing in God's judgement on the wicked, but it's not something I feel inclined to - I would much rather that they repent, and considering the fate of those who don't know Jesus moves me towards tears rather than anywhere else. I wish I could say it moved me to tears more often - it certainly moved Jesus there.

I can't think of a single example of rejoicing in the death of the unrepentant wicked in the New Testament. There are examples of rejoicing in the defeat of the devil, even in the downfall of institutions and authorities that set themselves up against God, but not in individual sinners.

But I can't see why that should change between the Old and New Testaments. In both, our salvation is by grace and our response to wickedness should be "there but for the grace of God go I". Is it an effect of the way that the covenant becomes internal rather than external? Is it because the priestly and kingly roles are subsumed in Christ, so that in a sense he is the only Annointed One? Is it because it is even clearer that salvation (past, present and future) is by grace? Any bright ideas?

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