Psalm 45:1–9; Job 9; Romans 14:1–12

Psalm 45:1–9: Alter informs us that this is the only psalm with the superscription, “a song of love.” Which, after a brief introduction with he memorable image, “my tongue is the pen of a rapid scribe,”  becomes obvious in verse 3: “You are the loveliest of the sons of man,/ grace flows form your lips.”

The poet does intermixes the king’s physical beauty with his martial prowess: “Gird your sword on your thigh, O warrior,/ Your glory and grandeur.” (4) But with the warrior’s sword is balanced by the highest quality of kingship as he rides a metaphorical horse of the essential qualities of leadership: “And in your grandeur pass onward,/ mount on a word of truth, humility and justice, and let your right hand shoot forth terrors.” (5)

He will conquer the nation’s enemies as “peoples fall beneath you,” (6) but again justly, as he is holding “a scepter of right, your kingship’s scepter.” (7) Above all is that “You loved justice and hated evil.” It is for this reason that “did God your God anoint you with oil of joy over your fellows.” (8)

While it’s tempting to draw parallels here with Jesus as King Jesus riding triumphantly onto Jerusalem, I think the wiser course is to simply enjoy these verses for their magisterial beauty and underlying joy that a king who loves justice and hates evil has come to lead Israel.

Job 9: Job responds to Bildad’s deuteronomic theology that Job must have sinned to cause these woes. He agrees with his interlocutor that what he has said is true, but there is the fundamental problem of the disparity be tween God and man: “Indeed I know that this is so; /but how can a mortal be just before God? /If one wished to contend with him,/ one could not answer him once in a thousand.” (2,3). We humans are simply too puny to contend with God.

He goes on to describe a God who controls all creation, “who shakes the earth out of its place,…who commands the sun,” (7) that is simply beyond our understanding, much less our communion with God: “Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him;/ he moves on, but I do not perceive him.” (11) God is so great, so enormous, he is beyond being visible, much less understandable. Job is drawing the obvious conclusion that we therefore have no power whatsoever over God; we are simply the pawns in God’s cosmic chess game: “He snatches away; who can stop him?/ Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” (12)

And therefore there cannot be justice, much less reconciliation with God: “ If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?” (19) We cannot come into court before God, and even if we did, “Though I am innocent, my own mouth would condemn me;/ though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.” (20)

Job raises the issue of theodicy; how there can be evil in the world with a just God? Job’s view is simple, depressing and modern: “he destroys both the blameless and the wicked” (22) with equal abandon. In fact, Job sees God as vindictive and cruel (which is understandable!): “ he mocks at the calamity of the innocent./The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;/ he covers the eyes of its judges.” (24) God will always win as “there is no umpire between us.” (33)

When we feel abandoned by God and despair reigns in our lives, there is nothing we can say or think that Job has not already said. To feel abandoned and worse, to feel God has unjustly punished us is the darkest of all feelings. Yet as Job proves, it is an all too common human condition. We see no light; there is only darkness.

Romans 14:1–12: Paul turns from high theology to addressing common human behavior: our ability to judge others quickly and harshly. (I’d love to know the backstory to this chapter!) How many times have I done exactly what Paul condemns here: “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.” (1) We welcome new Christians and then immediately go about the project of instilling “correct theology” into them or worse, as Paul intimates here, telling them that their views are uninformed, naive, or simply wrong. When our only duty is to welcome them into the fellowship.

We also need to learn to deal with differences of all kinds within the church and avoid judging those who do not do or say as we do: “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.” (3) We each are responsible for one thing: our own faith and “It is before [our] own lord that [we] stand or fall.” (4). And it is God who dispenses grace not judgement: “And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” (4b). The question is, what are we doing? Are we helping our brothers and sisters to stand before the Lord–or are we cutting them off at the knees?

Paul also asserts the truth that we will each practice our faith differently: “Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.” (6) So, the simple question remains, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?” And the simple answer: “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” (10)

How many church splits would have been avoided or “worship wars” been settled peacefully if we had simply heeded Paul’s advice here?  Paul’s message is simplicity itself: We are not the ones qualified to render judgement–even on those who accuse us unjustly. Our sole duty is to respond in love and patience. And for those in positions of leadership, their responsibility not to render arbitrary judgement is even greater.

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