Psalm 96: Time For Justice

Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
    he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

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Psalm 96:13

Andy Thornton is the greatest singer songwriter you’ve never heard of. I appreciate there is some subjectivity involved in that opinion but I’m sticking with it! Andy’s originally from Yorkshire but is often described as a Scottish songwriter as he spent a long time working in Glasgow. A little while back he moved near Bishop’s Stortford and I was delighted that one of my musical heroes was able to share in the Churches Together Service that marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. Andy played one of his songs and then led us in the most amazing version of Newton’s great hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ (sorry about the pun!).

Andy’s first solo album was entitled Victims and Criminals and one of the stand out tracks is ‘Time For Justice’. It’s a bit of an upside-down song. It focuses on those who respectable society often think deserve to be on the receiving end of justice – the delinquent, the prostitute, the junkie, the ne’er-do-wells – but, as the title suggests, the line between victim and criminal is blurred and often the ones labelled criminals have, somewhere down the line, been neglected or abused by those who should have loved and protected them. 

The time of justice that is longed for in the song is not retribution. It’s not the criminal getting what the custodians of morality think that they deserve. Rather, it’s about looking forward to the day when God makes things right. To those hardened by years of anger or hopelessness or disappointment, that intervention might well sound like good news. The song also suggests that those who have turned religion into some kind of behavioural code to keep others feeling bad about themselves might also be in for a shock as well.

‘Time For Justice’ expresses a very Hebrew idea. God is not so much the criminal judge looking to find fault and punish, but he is he one who sets things right and brings peace (shalom).

And that takes us back to Psalm 96, and particularly verse 13. The reason that the earth rejoices is because its good creator is coming to set things right. The bad news is this: we didn’t listen to the wisdom of the creator, and have completely messed things up and dug ourselves into such a hellish pit that we can’t get out. The good news is that God is coming to sort it out. For the Psalmist this remained a future – but we have seen it beautifully and partially fulfilled in the coming of Jesus (whose very name means God to the rescue!). Jesus came to set things right and to heal creation (vv. 11–13, also Romans 8:18–21).

We can point to many ways in which Jesus has already brought salvation. He has defeated the power of death and evil. Through him we are reconciled with our heavenly Father and indwelt by the Spirit. And through him we are joined together in this remarkable multi-ethnic family that we call the church. But there’s more to come. Salvation is not just in the past but lies in the future (Romans 5:9, 10) – the Kingdom has come, but we still pray for it to come in all its fullness (Matthew 6:10) and we are confident that it will.

What is our response as we live between the time of Jesus first coming and his return? Surely it is the same as the Psalmist: in each generation to sing a new song and proclaim afresh his marvellous deeds and bring him an offering (v. 8), not just of cattle and sheep but the offering of our lives as a joyful and grateful sacrifice (Romans 12:1).