TODAY’S READING: Psalms 26, 40, 58, 61–62, 64
Part of the missionary message is that the whole world, every people, is under the destructive wrath of God. The inescapable reality is that the character of God includes a destructive anger against what is wicked. The passions that rise within us against abuse and injustice are sourced in the nature of God who is slow to anger, but rightly angry. We cannot offer a diluted gospel to the nations, a gospel that does not confront wickedness, a gospel that does not warn the unreached to “flee the wrath to come.” David put it this way: “I have not sat with idolatrous mortals, nor will I go in with hypocrites. I have hated the assembly of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked… That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all Your wondrous works… In the congregations I will bless the Lord” (Psalm 26:4–5, 7, 12). Missions is this strange and wonderful representation of the full-orbed character of God. He is indeed angry at sin and sinners (every day!) and He does indeed find a way for mercy to triumph over judgment. The good news is insensible outside of the bad news, and part of blessing God is proclaiming His terrors.
The psalmist returns to the theme of righteous indignation over and again: “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies… Break their teeth in their mouth, O God! Break out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord! …So that men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely He is God who judges in the earth” (58:3, 6, 11). We have so mismanaged anger (for the wrath of man indeed does not accomplish the righteousness of God) that we have lost the ability to purely channel the wrath of God (which does accomplish His righteousness). There is a time and place to rebuke the nations, to call down fire on Sodom, and to warn Nineveh that God does indeed judge all the earth. A missiology devoid of threat, judgment, anger, and alarm (all of which must be carefully righteous) is a false missiology, one that certainly does not represent the great passions and realities of who God is, nor one He wants His missionaries to communicate. We do the nations no favors when we tell them distorted lies. To pretend that no judgment looms or that no wrath gathers (because we do not want to offend) is an offense to the Lord of heaven and earth and a distortion of His character. As part of the missionary message, we must warn: “But God shall shoot at them with an arrow… All men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God… The righteous shall be glad in the Lord, and trust in Him. And all the upright in heart shall glory” (64:7, 9–10). True declaration, gladness, and glory can only follow appropriate fear.
When we rightly praise the Lord, that praise includes His wrath, His judgment, His undiluted holiness, His unapproachable transcendence, and His immutable will. It is this kind of praise that allows David to say: “He has put a new song in my mouth—praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and trust in the Lord… I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness in the great assembly; indeed, I do not restrain my lips… I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great assembly” (40:3, 9–10). What type of praise makes the nations fear? Praise that includes lauding the God of wrath. There is no place for the messenger to be embarrassed by the message or the character of the Master. When praise begins with the fear of God, the crescendo into love, broadcast into the great assembly, is then both less, unparalleled, and universal. We can cry from among the nations at the ends of the earth (61:2), and we can invite all unreached peoples to join us. Indeed, we can say: “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (62:8).
Often in Psalms, David and the other writers toggled back and forth between using Jehovah and Elohim. Elohim was the contextualized name for God from the Canaanite language, while Jehovah was the personal, covenant name that Israel used for God. Every time we see Elohim (God) in our text juxtaposed with Jehovah (Lord), we should dance a missionary jig, for it is a reminder that God reaches out and offers His refuge to all nations, even the Buddhist Thai in South Korea. Faithful missionaries are careful to represent the full character of God among the nations, a message that includes both anger and wrath, love and refuge, which all together illicit the highest praise.