“Our God is coming; He will not be silent! Devouring fire precedes Him, and a storm rages around Him. On high, He summons heaven and earth in order to judge His people…”Psalm 50:3-4
The following two headlines caught my attention today:
A fire so bad that it generates a storm? It sounds like something from an end-of-the-world disaster movie…or the judgment poetry of Psalm 50. Ancient cultures looked at cataclysmic disaster and concluded that the gods must be unreasonably angry. Extreme sacrifices must be made to appease the gods and stop the disaster. Modern Western culture looks at cataclysmic disaster and concludes that the climate is changing due to our unreasonable consumption. Extreme sacrifices must be made to atone for our behavior and stop the disaster. Both responses make perfect sense within the worldview that birthed them. What response might come out of the worldview of the Bible?
With other ancient cultures, the Bible affirms that there is more meaning to be made of the events in the physical world. The realm of God’s work is not merely the immaterial but the material as well. Heaven and earth overlap, and therefore a “devouring fire” may indeed signal divine activity.
With modern culture, the Bible affirms that humans are not merely passive victims or recipients of circumstances but instead are far more intimately involved with both people and the rest of the created order than they realize. Despite the illusion created by hyper-individualism, the Bible portrays humans as deeply interconnected with the world as God’s image bearers to the world (Genesis 1:27).
Contrary to both ancient and modern cultures, the Bible declares that no means of self-atonement will do. Neither sacrificing bulls nor carbon emissions will atone for the evil of “forgetting God” (Psalm 50:9-10, 22). The sacrifice He desires is gratitude and trust (Psalm 50:14-15). Gratitude and trust are to be centered on Jesus Christ (See Romans 1:18-25; 3:21-26).
Why would an ancient Egyptian city sunk into the ocean by an earthquake matter today? It reminds us we are not the first humans to face our disturbing inability to control this planet we call home. It calls us to a radical humility and recognition that “God is the Judge” (Psalm 50:6), and we are not.