Day 44 | Cameron Garrett
“O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance;
They have defiled your holy temple,
They have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.” (Psalm 79: 1)
I’m reading this book – The Invention of Nature – about this guy – Alexander Von Humboldt – who was once described by his contemporaries as the second most famous man in the world after Napoleon. Charles Darwin called him “the greatest scientific traveler who ever lived.” Among a million other discoveries, Humboldt is the first guy to have postulated that the world was a single, interconnected, web-like, and ultimately fragile organism that could be altered by human action. In essence, he was the first to claim that the effects of the human species intervention on nature were already “incalculable” and could become catastrophic if they continued to disturb the world so “brutally.” This was in the 18 th century.
Now I’m going to ask you to do something. Please turn away from your screen and read psalm 78. It’s a doozy. In my Bible it’s three pages long – so sit with it for a sec.
Preface: It took me some time to wrestle with Asaph’s retelling of the history of the Jewish nation. I struggled with Asaph’s description of God as Wrathful, his anger ready to boil over onto His people at any moment. And I did not want to give an apology in this reflection. After sitting with the Psalm, I didn’t want to cheapen Asaph’s descriptions of God and His Justice by making the move that we all too often make – the move that says “Look to Christ and you see that Asaph’s God is not the True God, but rather an ignorant and angry brute conceived of by ignorant and angry people.” Of course, we know who God is in the person of Jesus Christ. We would do well to not forget that Christ flipped tables.
I’ll interpret Asaph’s story as Asaph interprets his people’s history. Psalm 78 begins:
“My people, hear my teaching;
Listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable.” (Psalm 78: 1-2).
Asaph is a storyteller, the history of his people a story. Asaph has seen war and famine, he has seen the slavery and freedom of his people, he has seen sin and blessing, he has seen the rise and fall of Ephraim, he has seen the oppressed become the oppressors, and he has seen in the nation of Judah and King David the low brought high. Not only has Asaph seen and heard these things – he knows God. He knows God is intimately woven into the story of the people of Israel. As a storyteller, he looks back on all that he has seen and heard and tries to interpret where God is in that story. He knows that where there is famine there is God, where there is destruction there is God. God may not be the cause of destruction and famine. But God cannot be cut out of the parts of the story that make us uncomfortable.
In the twenty-first century, where do we see God? Do we see Him in the rise of nationalism, in the droves of refugees stumbling across oceans in search of a place to call home, or in the rabid, greed- fueled consumption of the natural world?
Where is God in the story of the United States? In His name, people came to the New World and committed genocide. In the pursuit of religious freedom and liberty, a nation was built on the backs of slaves. God did not cause any of this. But as Asaph points out, He sees all of it.
I believe the story of God will end in the redemption of not only all people, but also the natural world. I also believe there is something to be learned in the history of God’s people as told by Asaph. Where are we situated? Who do we identify with in Asaph’s story? Are we the nation of Judah led by King David?
Or are we the powerful nation of Ephraim that forgot all God has done for them?