Some people had questions about my recent review of Doug O’Donnell’s book, God’s Lyrics, which I want to attempt to address in this post.
The basic question has to do with the place of singing about God’s judgments. O’Donnell makes the point that many of the songs in the Old Testament rejoice over God’s just judgments (Ex. 15:1-18; 1Sam. 2:10; 2Sam. 22:44-51, etc.) A related theme has to do with God humbling the proud. Both themes are lacking in the song diet of many churches, yet they’re unquestionably present not only in OT songs, but in the New Testament as well (Lk. 1:51-55; Rev. 18:20; 19:1-5).
Are You Kidding Me?
We can struggle with the idea of rejoicing in God’s judgments. Doesn’t that contradict what Jesus said when he told us, “Love your enemies?” Not quite. Jesus was speaking about not taking personal revenge against those who harm us. God’s judgments are his right and necessary response to those who oppose his sovereign rule.
There are other reasons why this concept is difficult for us to grasp. We don’t view God’s judgments from His vantage point as the perfectly holy, unswervingly righteous Creator. We have a hard time seeing how wicked evil really is, in all its forms. From rape to greed, murder to envy, sex-trafficking to slander, dealing drugs to disobeying parents, every act is a form of cosmic treason against our Creator.
Most importantly, we fail to grasp how evil we really are. Outside of Christ, we are all “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:2-3). We ourselves deserve to be judged by God.
So how and why does God want us to sing about his judgments? Here are a few thoughts.
God’s Judgment at the Cross
The most important judgment we want to remember is the one that we have been delivered from because Jesus was judged in our place on the cross. This is the “word of Christ” that is to dwell in us richly as we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). He has “rescued us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10) and is the One “whom God forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:25). We have been “saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:9) and are no longer under condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Jesus has delivered us from judgment and reconciled us to God (2 Cor. 5:18).
God’s Past Judgments
We can also benefit from calling to mind God’s past judgments, when he demonstrated his power to overthrow his enemies and save those who trust in him. That’s what seems to be taking place in Psalm 9.
Vss. 5-6 recall how God has rebuked the nations and made the wicked perish.
Vss. 7-8 lead us to praise God for his righteous rule: “The LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world in righteousness.”
In vss. 9-10 the psalmist responds with a confident assertion and personal application: “The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you.”
Finally, we’re encouraged to, “Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds” (Ps. 95:11)! Singing is an appropriate response when we remember how history bears testimony to the fact that God rescues the humble who trust in him.
God’s Future Judgments
A third way we can profitably sing about God’s judgments is calling to mind the day when King Jesus will return and every wrong will be made right. He will inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2Thess. 1:8-9). Anticipating that God is coming to “judge the world with righteousness” (Ps. 98:9) should fill us with hope in the midst of despair, faith in the midst of fear, and joy in the midst of suffering. If God doesn’t judge evil he is neither just nor good. But history and the cross reveal that he is a God of absolutely sovereign justice and mind-boggling mercy.
The point of all this isn’t that we should always be focusing on God’s judgments, nor to sing about them in a cold-hearted way that minimizes the tragic consequences of sin. The point is to magnify the greatness of God’s holiness, justice, righteousness, sovereignty, power, mercy, kindness, and grace in his judging evil, and especially in the judging of the Savior in our place at Calvary. His undeserved kindness has enabled us to be forgiven, to be adopted as precious children, and to anticipate unending joy at God’s right hand in the new heavens and the new earth.
Of course, singing isn’t the only way God has given us to rejoice in his righteous character and judgments. We can also read Scriptures, pray prayers, and preach sermons that reference and expound upon it. But since this blog is aimed at people who lead congregational singing, next week I’ll suggest some songs we can sing that reference God’s judgments and help us think about them in a way that honors God, encourages a passion for holiness, and strengthens our confidence in the gospel.
If you want to become more familiar with this topic, here’s a list of downloadable sermons on the wrath/judgment of God that The Gospel Coalition has compiled.