Solutions are often the actual problem. Answers sometimes lead to more head-scratching than do the questions. The Church has a host of problems—most of which stem from the fact that she is composed of a host of people. And of course every one of them knows the answer.
This conundrum is not merely epistemological. Ideas have consequences. Eventually some zealous soul will start making applications based upon those answers. So epistemological conundrums eventually give way to ethical concerns. This should concern us. And as it happens, many of the problems confronting modern Christians is that they diligently try to do the right thing . . . in the wrong categories. They want to modify behavior without overhauling a belief structure. So they try guitar fingering on a wagon wheel; they try chess rules on a billiard table; they apply the rules of French grammar to Algebra. And for us to draw attention to such mistakes is not to object to any of these things in particular—chess, guitar, French, whatever. But this is the mistake we make whenever we try to “make a difference” and our activity does not proceed directly from a vision of the Almighty Lord, high and lifted up.
God reigns, and the whole earth is called to rejoice (Ps. 97: 1). His holiness is not what we might assume—His righteousness and judgment are like clouds and darkness (v. 2). A fire precedes Him, and burns up His enemies (v. 3). Lightning flashes, and the whole created order sees it, and trembles (v. 4). In the presence of God, hills and mountains melt like wax in a fire (v. 5). The heavens preach, and everyone sees His glory (v. 6). A curse is pronounced—confounded be all false worshippers, and all the gods are summoned to worship the one God (v. 7). When this is proclaimed Zion hears and is glad. The daughters of Judah rejoice (v. 8). Why do we rejoice? Because the Lord is exalted high above all the earth (v. 9). This transcendent sense of true worship has potent ethical ramifications—you that love the Lord, hate evil (v. 10). In this setting, God delivers His people from those who return the hatred (v. 10). Light is sown for the righteous; gladness for the upright (v. 11). We are summoned by Him to therefore rejoice, and to give thanks as we remember His holiness (v. 12).
Consider the clouds and darkness. Holiness is not manageable (v. 2). Holiness does not come in a shrink-wrapped box. Holiness is not marketable. Holiness is not tame. Holiness is not sweet. Holiness is not represented by Precious Moments figurine. Holiness is not smarmy. Holiness is not unctuous. Holiness is not domesticated. But worship a god who is housebroken to all your specifications, and what is the result? Depression, and a regular need for sedatives—better living through chemistry.
Holiness fierce. Holiness is wild. Holiness is three tornadoes in a row. Holiness is a series of black thunderheads coming in off the bay. Holiness is impolite. Holiness is the kind of darkness that makes a sinful man tremble. Holiness beckons us to that darkness, where we do not meet ghouls and ghosts, but rather the righteousness of God. Holiness is a consuming fire. Holiness melts the world. And when we fear and worship a God like this, what is the result? Peace and gladness of heart.
‘ He is a lion, the lion, the Great Lion…’
‘Is he safe?’
‘Of course he isn’t safe, He’s a lion. But he is good.’ ~The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
If we worship the god who does nothing but kittens and pussy willows, we will end in despair. Worship the God of the jagged edge, the God whose holiness cannot be made palatable for the middle class American consumer, and the result is deep gladness. Do you hear that? Gladness, not pomposity. And, thank God, such gladness does not make us parade about with noses high in the wind, or speak with lots of rotund vowels, or strut with a sanctimonious air. Gladness, laughter, joy—set these before you. This is deep Christian faith, and not what so many are peddling today in the name of Jesus. The God of the whirlwind is the calm in the tempest. He is the “I” of the storm. The safest place to be is not at the circumference of His fierce glory, but rather right at the center—near the heart. It is there that He says, “It is I; be not afraid.” Worshipping this God produces a serenity that sleeps through storms and a felicity that dances in the deluge.
This has ethical ramifications as well. “You that love the Lord . . . hate evil”. If we bypass this vision of who God actually is, the necessary result will be a prissy moralism, and not the robust morality of the Christian faith. The distance between moralism and true morality is vast, and the thing that creates this distance is the knowledge of the holy. Those who content themselves with petty rules spend all their time fussing about with hemlines, hair lengths, curfews, and cocktails. But those who see this particular folly and go off in their own little libertine direction are no better. The former act as though their moralism is grounded on the dictates of a gremlin-like god who lives in their attic, but his word is law. The latter say that this is stupid, and aspire to become the gremlin themselves. There are two parts: love the Lord. Hate evil.
In this psalm, how should we define right worship? The answer is that right worship occurs when a congregation of God approaches Him, sees Him as He is, and responds rightly, as He has commanded—in joy and glad submission. Such worship necessitates turning away from all idols (v. 7), and turning to the holy God who cannot be manipulated. And considering this psalm alone, what does right worship do? What effect does it have? What are the results? The earth rejoices (v. 1). All the islands are glad (v. 1). His enemies are consumed with the fire that goes before Him (v. 3). The earth is illuminated by His lightning, and trembles (v. 4). In the presence of the Lord (and in worship we are in the presence of the Lord), the hills melt (v. 5). The heavens preach, and the people see His glory (v. 6). Idolaters are flummoxed, confounded (v. 7). The universal call to worship is even issued to the idols (v. 7). Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice (v. 8). The name of God is exalted above every name (v. 9). The saints of God learn to hate evil, and God preserves them from those who persecute them (v. 10). Light and gladness are sown in our hearts (v. 11). His righteous people rejoice, and are grateful when they remember His holiness (v. 12).
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.