20th Sunday after Pentecost
by Calvin Redekop
I love to return again to the Scriptures, to those visions seen by the prophets and apostles and singers of Israel about the “peaceful reign of God.” There is a strange concatenation of judgment and celebration in some of the Psalms, especially Psalms 96 to 99 and 104. Psalm 99 beings, “The Lord is king; let the people tremble!” In many Christian circles it is today politically incorrect to speak about God as king, as reigning, as judging, and instead God is portrayed as a morally nondiscrimination, indulgent Santa. Such and attitude represents the deliberate denial of a theme that runs through the Bible from beginning to end. “The Lord is king,” and one of the functions of a king was to be a judge, to dispense justice.
“He is coming to judge the earth, he will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth” (Ps.96:13). How may we today, in such a different time and place, understand these words? Indeed, “let the peoples tremble!” For God comes to us here in America with his truth to lay bare the terrible travesty we have made of human nature, so much so that it has become commonplace in our consciousness and in public discourse. Human beings have been degraded from being created in the image of God, with all the richness and potential that implies, into consumers. God comes to judge us for this insult to the creation, a blasphemy that most Christians accept with barely a murmur of dissent.
God comes to judge the disruptions and the extinctions we have caused and are causing in “the peaceable kingdom.” We gradually crowd the creatures from their natural habitat and make it inhospitable, all to feed our voracious appetite for consumer goods. If we have such a vulgar view of ourselves, how can we have any respect for the rest of the creation? That judgment is in the first instance the judgment of the gospel in our own lives. It is the judgment upon our treatment of God’s creation for the satisfaction of our appetites, for being content and comfortable in our role as “consumers.” “The least of these,” to whom the Judge in the Parable of the Last Judgment alludes, must now also include all our fellow creatures on this planet. If we repent, we will allow the light that has come into the world to judge and dispel that terrible darkness of distortion in each of us. When that darkness begins to lift the children of God are revealed. This is what the composer of the 104th Psalm meant when he said: “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more” (Ps. 104:35).
The judgment that makes the people tremble is the occasion for the joy of creation. Listen to the music of it:
Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad!
Let the sea thunder and all it holds!
Let the countryside exult, and all that is in it,
and all the trees of the forest cry out for joy,
at Yahweh’s approach, for he is coming,
coming to judge the earth;
He will judge the world with saving justice and the nations with constancy.
(Ps. 96:11-13 NJB)
Calvin Redekop was an early explorer of environmental theologies. This passage is from Creation and the Environment: An Anabaptist Perspective on a Sustainable World (2003).