He whose strength loves justice

The Reformed world loves to speak and teach and preach of God’s sovereignty. Based on the sheer number of words  devoted to this topic, it is obviously a precious doctrine to us. And yet there is a danger in our emphasis — or, at least, a pitfall that we must avoid.

In speaking of God’s sovereignty, it is easy for our world to conceive of this primarily in terms of force. After all, everywhere around us, this is what power and sovereignty mean: the ability to do what you want. And in today’s secular, immanent frame, the only restraint on power is one’s personal character. Judging by contemporary TV and movies, there is little outside of a person that truly constrains him or her. Escaping the constraints of the law is not insurmountable.

But while power is of course necessary as part of God’s nature, we must be careful that we do not assert that it is the primary or initial characteristic of God. Instead, love, the Triune love and communion, is primary. The Scriptures tell us clearly, “God is love,” and however trite or commonplace the statement may seem to those of us who have grown up in the church, we must look again and understand the significance of this for our world. This is crucial because to those outside of Christ — and also to our children — force and power are ambiguous. How might they be used? Can we trust someone simply because she or he is powerful? Anyone who has lived very long will understand, tragically, that power and trustworthiness do not go hand in hand.

In the metrical version of Psalm 99, verse 4 speaks of God as “He whose strength loves justice.” In our world of #metoo, #churchtoo, sexual slavery, war, famine, and persecution, this line catches in my throat every time I sing it: I am so thankful that the God we serve upends our world’s understandings and expectations of power. How beautiful is he who has come as King, born in a manger, riding on a donkey, washing feet as a servant, nailed to a cross.

Thus we must establish clearly, unambiguously, the love and goodness of God, in our speaking of God’s sovereignty. Without it, all our talk of God’s power and dominion will be interpreted through the dominant pictures of power in our world. Those who hear our words, especially those who have suffered at the hands of the powerful, will not be sure that they ought to rejoice. But when we speak of God’s sovereignty within the context of his character, the beauty of our God who is our shepherd-King will shine more clearly.