God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment…Arise, O God, and judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!(Psalm 82:1, 8)
It’s impossible to escape the political debates that rage on and on, day after day—in our own country and throughout the world. Whether those debates are televised stage events or nightly dinner disputes, solemn courtroom deliberations or late-night staff meetings, they are all fundamentally political. They are ongoing discussions about how things are now and how things should be. They are disagreements not only about what decisions should be made and why; but even more than that, the debates are about how important decisions are made and who gets to make them.
And this is hardly a modern phenomenon. The idea of political decision making is as old as human history itself. Nations and tribes have always been political hotbeds, of course, but so too have families and workplaces and religious institutions. Any place human beings might hope to find real community with one another, they end up stumbling upon politics instead.
If politics are an unavoidable reality in our lives, how can we decide whom to believe, whom to trust, whom to follow?
In Psalm 82, we find a rare glimpse into God’s politics. Asaph prophetically receives a brief invitation into the deliberations of the “divine council.” God takes his place “in the midst of the gods” to pronounce judgment (vs. 1). We know who God is, but who are these other “gods?” There is not a clear answer to that question. Throughout the centuries, biblical scholars have had their own debates. Are these “gods” (elohim, in Hebrew) lesser divine beings? Are they angels, kings, earthly judges and rulers? Asaph doesn’t tell us specifically. But what he does disclose is not only what decisions should be made in the divine council and why; but even more than that, he tells us how eternal decisions are made and who gets to make them.
It becomes clear that God’s judgment in Psalm 82 is focused primarily on the rulers themselves (“the gods”). They have continually judged unjustly, and shamelessly shown partiality to the wicked (vs. 2). God demands a political course correction, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and destitute; rescue the weak and needy” (vs. 3-4). Instead of showing partiality to the powerful, you should instead be about delivering help to the powerless!
Psalm 82 reminds us that God’s politics are not terribly complicated or nuanced. Time and again in scripture, God renders judgment against those who despise the outcasts and needy; he brings curses on anyone who refuses to help the aliens, strangers or foreigners (Deuteronomy 27:19; Psalm 146:9; Zechariah 7:9-10). He is the one, “who has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53)
There is no scriptural mandate for ignoring hurting people for our own economic benefit. There are no texts to justify massive income inequality in our society. God doesn’t have any “ends justify the means” caveats for political leaders who subvert God’s desires to satisfy their goals or mollify their constituents. But it is God—and God alone—who will ultimately “judge the earth” and “inherit all the nations.” (vs. 8)
Sometimes it may seem like God has lost that authority. It appears the “gods” of our day have free reign to rule and judge as they please. They act with impunity and govern by ulterior motives and self-interest. We long to hear another divine edict telling them to “make a course correction…or else!” When exactly does God plan to judge the earth and claim his inheritance? And what can we ordinary people do in the meantime?
The good news is that God has claimed His inheritance. When Jesus came to earth, it was God himself establishing a new kind of kingdom, ruled by a new kind of King. This new kingdom was announced in the ministry and message of Jesus (Matthew 3:2); it was made available to everyone at the cross; it was made visible to the world at the resurrection; and it will continue to advance until every enemy is defeated and Christ is King and Lord over all (1 Corinthians 15:25-26, Philippians 2:9-11).
So what does this new King suggest we ordinary citizens do in the meantime?
Jesus told his disciples to, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44). And not only did he tell them to pray differently, he told them to act differently—living less like masters of their domain and more like servants in the world (Matthew 20:25-26). World leaders will come and go, and princes will rise and fall, but Christ is King now and forever.
Today is the first full day of the season of Lent. It is a time for self-reflection and humility; it’s a time for prayer, fasting, and giving to those in need. It’s a time for justice and righteousness and peace. Let that be your primary political leaning during these desperate times. Follow the true King—go wherever he leads, do whatever he commands, and watch what happens! Jesus Christ is the only real answer to every real problem we face. He is the Living Water…stay thirsty for him!