April 12, 2018: You are godsJosh Moody
Have you ever wondered why it is that religion can seem so corrupt? Hardly a day goes by, it seems, that we do not hear of some crisis or other in the world of religion. And then we are told that religion is the cause of all the troubles in the world—a statement that is factually inaccurate. Religion does not cause evil; people cause evil, but people can use the power of religion to advance evil ideas. Nonetheless, it is hard to gainsay or deny the idea that religion can at least sometimes seem corrupt. Even “Christian” religion.
In this psalm, God, the Lord God, is in the midst of the “gods.” It is a strange thought; what does it mean? Jesus, in John 10:34, uses this psalm to explain how strange it is for the Jews of his day to find it incredible that he could claim not to be one of the “gods” but to be the Lord God himself. There, in John chapter 10, Jesus says that “he” (that is, the Lord God) “called them gods to whom the word of God came.” In other words, these “gods” are religious leaders, rulers, divinely appointed officials.
So the psalm begins then by saying that “God takes his place in the divine council” (82:1). Imagine a theology faculty meeting at a university (a faculty that in some universities is still called the “divinity” faculty). Or imagine a convocation of cardinals or religious elite of some kind discussing “divine” things in a “divine council.”
Do you see some evil in that “divine council”? Remember “in the midst of the gods” (the “divines” as theologians and religious leaders used to be called) “he [God] holds judgment.” Right there, in that theological faculty meeting, in that religious leaders’ gathering, right there, God is in charge, and God judges.
He calls them to justice: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” It is imperative that religious leaders exercise their authority justly, not currying special favor for themselves or their cronies. They should “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute” (82:2). It is easy in leadership situations to think of the interests of the powerful, for if they are upset, it will damage the organization as a whole. But the role of a servant leader is to look after the interests of the marginalized and to speak up for those who have no voice.
Those who do not act like this, though they may seem so wise with worldly wisdom, actually “have neither knowledge nor understanding.” They are missing the point altogether. And, what is more, because of that “all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” Our world is set upon a moral foundation by the God who made it and sustains it; our societies are meant to rely upon a foundation of justice. When such things are ignored, the “foundations are shaken” and the societies tremble and even—if the rot is not stopped—fail.
But, look! Yes, they are “gods” (82:6, religious leaders of power and influence), but still they shall die like men and fall like any worldly prince. Knowing theology does not grant you immunity from obeying God’s Word! Familiarity with the text, expertise with communication of the text, does not give you a free pass from following the message about which the text speaks!
And so, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” (82:8). Let even “divine councils” reflect the true justice of God himself!