MAN'S RAGE, GOD'S PRAISE
the important thing for us to do is not to consult our own reactions,
emotional or otherwise, on this anniversary, but to bring this event before
by William H. Smith
It's too early to tell whether September 11, 2001, will prove to be "the
day that changed America." But there can be no doubt that it has
had its impact on us, individually and corporately.
I found that, as we approached this anniversary, I experienced few emotions
- conviction, yes, that those who perpetrated these acts of violence had
committed great evil, and, yes, resolve that those responsible should
be relentlessly rooted out and punished - but little in the way of emotion.
Then last night my wife and I watched part of one of the many television
programs produced to commemorate this date. And, as I watched the progression
of the events and the impact on lives, I was left stunned by the enormity
of the destruction, angered by the wickedness of the attacks, and saddened
for the suffering of fellow citizens.
But the important thing for us to do is not to consult our own reactions,
emotional or otherwise, on this anniversary, but to bring this event before
God, that we might understand and respond in light His revelation of Himself
in His Word. For that purpose I ask that we take a few moments to give
our attention to the Psalm we have read, the 76th Psalm.
I. THE REALITY OF GOD (1-3)
We begin with the reality of God, as He is made known to us in this Psalm
and in all of Scripture. The reality of God is quite different from the
prevailing ideas about Him in our culture. But it does no good to seek
or know or worship a God who does not exist except in our imaginations.
It is in our interest to know the reality about God, whatever it is.
The God revealed in Psalm 76 is the God who revealed Himself to ancient
Israel, who was worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem. "God is known
in Judah." The clear implication is that this God is known in Judah
and nowhere else. In other words, there is no God except this God. In
fact the Old Testament prophets insist on this everywhere - the only God
who exists is Israel's God and there is no god beside Him. This was a
remarkable thing in the ancient world that believed in the existence of
many gods and thought of various gods as ruling different powers of creation
- such as the sun, moon, oceans and fields - and of different gods ruling
different territories - such as a god of Assyria, a god of Egypt, or a
god of Israel. But God Himself says, "I am God. There are no other
gods except imaginary lifeless ones."
This Psalm was written after a great victory Judah had won, a victory
in which God, in a sense, "proved Himself" and vindicated Israel's
claims about Him. In the mind of the ancient pagan this would have been
taken as proof that at least Israel's God was on top for the moment. 'If
your god beats up our god, your god is greater," was the way they
thought. But the remarkable thing about the Old Testament is that it keeps
on saying the same thing about Israel's God when His people have experienced
devastating defeat and unspeakable horror. At the lowest point of the
covenant people's history, God claimed, through the prophet Daniel, that
He, Israel's God has an everlasting kingdom and that He does what He wants
to do in heaven and on earth. The religion of the Old Testament is an
Lest we think this view that there is only one real and true God is confined
to the Old Testament, we find the same thing in the New Testament where
we get the final and complete revelation of God with the coming of Christ.
Jesus Himself taught that there is no God but the God of Israel and that
no one can approach that God except through Himself. The Apostles proclaimed,
"There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ
We have heard much about diversity and tolerance since September 11.
There were in the aftermath of September 11 many inter-faith services
in which people of many religions came together to mark the event and
supposedly to seek God together. Similar services are being held in connection
with this anniversary. One of the local television stations reported on
an inter-faith service held last night. It is certainly true that Christians
believe in religious tolerance. We do not wish to deprive others of religious
freedom. But we do not believe that all religions are valid. We cannot
come together with those who follow other religions to worship a generic,
all-purpose, undefined, least common denominator God. Let us say it clearly:
the God of Islam does not exist nor does the God of any other religion.
There is no God but the God of the Bible and the God who is in Jesus Christ.
This is the reality of God. This is the God whom we seek tonight. And
we invite all people to seek and to know this God. Christianity is not
only an exclusive religion but also a missionary religion that proclaims
to all men and women everywhere that the God who is there is a God who
can be known because He has make Himself known in the Bible and in Jesus
II. THE WRATH OF GOD (4-9)
This God who really exists reveals Himself in this Psalm to be a God of
wrath. Verses 4-6 reveal God's wrath executed against the Assyrian armies
that attacked Jerusalem. We read tonight how, despite all their overwhelming
strength and all their proud boasting, God wiped them out so that they
could cause His people no harm. They came in all their wrath against Judah,
but they were met by the wrath of God for which they were no match. Verses
7-9 broaden the scope to God's universal justice and God's universal execution
of His wrath. These verses even look forward to God final judgment a day
described and guaranteed by the book of Revelation as the day of the wrath
of the Lamb and the great day of wrath. Even know the nations are raging
against God, but the wrath of the nations will be consumed in a moment
when the day of God's wrath arrives.
This truth of the wrath of God is not a popular truth about God. In
fact there are Christians who are uncomfortable with this truth and some
who would say that they could never bring themselves to believe in such
a God. Let me assure you that that does not bother God in the least.
Now when we think about the wrath of God we have to remember that is
nothing like human wrath - which can be arbitrary, unjust, and out of
control. God is never arbitrary, never unfair, and never losses control.
With that understood, let me also tell you why the revelation that God
is a God of wrath is important.
First, the wrath of God is necessary for God's goodness, righteousness,
and justice. It is impossible to conceive of a God who is good who is
infinitely tolerant of evil, or of a God of righteousness who is infinitely
tolerant of unrighteousness, or of a God of justice who is infinitely
tolerant of injustice. If God is good and righteous and justice there
has to be a reckoning when the right is vindicated and the wrong is punished.
There are those who are offended by our President's casting of the events
of last September 11 in terms of good and evil. People who respond in
that way are among the many in the western societies who have lost confidence
that there is any such thing as objective right and wrong. It is these
same people who are offended by God's wrath for they do not believe He
has any right to wrath since there is no such thing as good and righteousness
and justice. But God believes in these things and His wrath in the normal
and necessary response to evil, unrighteousness, and injustice.
Second, the wrath of God is important if we ever hope to see things put
right in this world. There is much that is wrong that is never corrected.
There is much injustice where justice never comes to bear. Many innocent
people suffer and are never vindicated.
But the wrath of God tells us that God sees all this, that He takes account
of it all, and that one day, when the time He has appointed comes, He
will act to put it all right. This enable us to live knowing that life
is not meaningless and that all is not hopeless. Suppose Osama Ben Laden
is alive today and is never apprehended and brought to justice. Or, think
of all the evil men who vented their wrath against God and against the
human race and were never held accountable by any human tribunal. Does
that mean they got away with it. Not as long as there exists a God of
justice and wrath. Now we can sometimes sing only these words: "Though
the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet." That is comforting
- to know that God is in control. But someday we will sing, "We give
thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and was, for you have taken your
great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath has
came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for the rewarding of
your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name,
both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth"
(Rev. 11:17,18). There is going to be a day of perfect justice - day which
shall never end. All that is wrong will be put eternally right.
III. THE RESPONSE OF GOD (10-12)
God is a God of wrath, but He has no delight in the death and destruction
of the wicked. Nor should we. In the closing verses of the Psalm God shows
us the right human response to His reality and wrath.
1] The first response is to recognize that this God will get praise to
Himself from literally everything, including the wrath of man. Have you
ever seen a little boy flailing away in anger at his father, while the
father holds his hand firmly on the little boy's forehead so that all
the blows are for nothing. The little boy may be full of rage, but he
cannot touch his father. All his rage and flailing accomplish nothing
but to show the bigness and strength and superiority of the father. This
is the way it is with the wrath of man. It serves ultimately only to show
how great God is.
The greatest example of the seemingly unmitigated wrath of man was the
crucifixion of Christ. There it seemed that the world at last had God
by the throat and was venting all its venomous wrath against Him. But,
as a matter of fact, the wrath of man was accomplishing nothing more than
what God had planned - God had predestined it all, even the rage of man.
And God got glorified, for it was at the cross that God showed the greatness
of His wisdom, love, and power, as in Christ He accomplished the salvation
of a vast multitude of otherwise wrath deserving sinners. We sinners who
are redeemed at the cross shall spend an eternity praising the God who
accomplished our redemption through the wrath of man.
And if God is praised by the wrath of man at the cross, we know that
in the end God will be praised by all the vicious and foolish demonstrations
of man's wrath. I do not know how, but God shall be glorified in the attacks
on the World Trade Center Towers and on the Pentagon. God will get glory
from Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot, and Osama Ben Laden.
2] Second, we who are God's people should respond by pledging our loyalty
to Him for his great works of salvation on our behalf. We should vow to
Him our faithfulness and put ourselves and all that we are and have at
the His disposal. Even for God's people God is not a God to be messed
with. We must take Him seriously. We must fear Him and serve Him. If we
are spared His wrath, the very displays of His wrath in history and at
the cross of Christ should fill us with awe and inspire us to worhip.
3] But, finally, there is an invitation to all the earth, even to kings
and peoples now in rebellion against God, and venting their wrath against
Him. It is not too late for them to come and submit themselves to Him
and to be included among those to whom He shows mercy. May I say this?
It is not too late for Osama Ben Laden, if he is still alive, to come
and in faith submit himself to God and so escape His wrath. You and I
might wish that God were not so merciful, but He is, and that's good.
That's good, for it means hope for me and hope for you. I deserve God's
wrath as much as does Osama Ben Laden, and, frankly, you do, too. But
there is mercy for us because at the cross God, in His mysterious love
for enraged sinners turned His wrath against His Son for a moment. And
in that moment of wrath against the Son, God accomplished eternal salvation
for God-haters. At the cross God's love and His wrath met each other and
made peace and showed the glory each of the other. His love led him to
satisfy His own wrath in the Person of His beloved Son. Nobody ever loved
a Son as God loved His. Why He should turn His wrath toward His Son and
not toward us only His love can explain. If we turn in faith to that Son,
we will never know the wrath of God. Only His limitless mercy and grace.
What kind of God is this - a God who gets praise in the rage of man against
Him? He is the God of the Bible, the God in Christ, the real God and God
of wrath and salvation who will get the praise no matter what.
WILLIAM H. SMITH
Westminster PCA, Huntsville, Alabama.