Do me a favor and please read Psalm 98.
Psalm 98 is a psalm of joy and praise. It’s a psalm that encourages not only the believer to praise, worship, and sing to the Lord but one that encourages all of creation to join in. We have beautiful descriptive words where the seas resound, the rivers “clap” their hands, and the mountains sing together (vs 7-8). Everything about this psalm is one massive worldly song of joy. So why do I feel so sad?
As a “believer” this psalm makes my heart warm. As a musician and leader of the church I want nothing more than to experience this joy and singing each and every day. As a steward of creation, in which we all have been ordained, I proclaim “Yes!” as we acknowledge the world’s praise of our King. Mountains, rivers, trees, earth and rocks all singing to God? Absolutely! But as a person who also lives in a broken world – today this is anything but.
It’s simply what it is. We live in a world that while God created it to praise him it doesn’t. People harm the earth by polluting the waters and taking more from nature than what they need. We cut down too many trees and do not replant as much as we take and we dispose of things we could very easily recycle. We have drills pulling out precious ores and metals from the earth at an astronomical rate and now we are fracking ground and polluting waters. We burn things we shouldn’t, we take over habitats and drive out animals, and we are constantly trying to improve “us” while destroying things all around us. Stewards of creation? Caretakers of this earth? Nope – not us. How can the mountains sing of “joy” when we’ve blasted and hollowed them out? How can the rivers clap their hands while they are carrying trash and layered in oil? We have become abusers instead of stewards of our original assignment from God.
And then there’s the simple fact that people are broken and have been given the choice to love or ignore God. While that is the way God created us to be it still breaks my heart knowing that my neighbor doesn’t know God. It hurts me knowing that some choose to ignore God, ignore our Savior, and push away the Holy Spirit. I want them to know pure and holy love. I want them to know that they have someone who values them and has put them above themselves. I want them to know that God loved them so much that he sacrificed himself for them. What else in this world means more than that? Nothing
And don’t get me started about the fact that we hurt people, ignore the poor, close our doors to the immigrant, shut-in the widow, and look away from the broken. The more I read this psalm that SHOULD be encouraging joy and praise in me the more I lament at just how far we have fallen from joy.
But sometimes it is in our lament that we remember the hope of the joy we have.
The psalmist invites the reader to sing a “new” song to the Lord. Why? Not because of where we have fallen from and not because of the harm we have caused throughout creation. Joy is present, even in the midst of lament, because of what the LORD has done: Salvation. That word alone is everything to us.
Salvation means “rescued,” “saved,” and even “delivered.” And as we read this psalm we see that this delivery is not only for Israel but the “ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” (3) Which means God saved Israel and the people beyond but also all of creation has been rescued.
A few weeks ago I preached on Psalm 2 and how this psalm was a psalm of joy. And while we never see the word “joy” in the text joy is found in the understanding that God reigns. That there isn’t anything in this world that will thwart his work, sidestep his power, or overcome his hand. Psalm 98 is a good reminder that while we lament at where we are – it’s not where we end up.
Paul writes in Rom 3:25-26 that God gave us salvation through Christ. That it was by his sacrifice that he “atoned” for our sins. To “atone” means to pay – and so Christ offered up his life as a payment for our brokenness. But let us not stop there. We affirm that when Christ comes again he will not only put a full stop and remove all sin and destruction from people but he will restore the earth to that which it was. We read in Ephesians 1:10 that all things will be restored when Christ returns (Acts 3:21 reflects this also). So why do the mountains sing while hollow and abused? Why do the rivers STILL clap? They too proclaim the goodness of God now and restoration to come.
I think it’s really easy to see the joy and hope in Scripture and cling to the promises we have all the while lamenting on the reality of this broken world. It’s as if hope and joy are intertwined with sadness and grief. Is this OK? I think so because it reminds us that this is not the way it’s supposed to be nor what it will be. But I think it also should challenge us to be better today because of the promise of God’s restorative hope tomorrow. We long for restoration. We long for pure joy. We long for all people to feel God’s love, and to know that they don’t is saddening. It really makes me wonder how fine that line is between joy and lament (that’s a blog all on its own there).
Joy in the midst of pain, suffering, and brokenness? Yes, but not by what we have done or continue to do but only by what God has done. Salvation, righteousness, faithfulness, and joy…all the very things that are in and given by God – and all the very things that the whole world will sing one day.