God's Word to the World (1)
Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.” Psalm 2.1-3
The rage of nations
In 1919, observing the devastation and confusion in the wake of World War I, Irish poet William Butler Yeats reflected on the state of humankind, a situation which must have struck him as a kind of insanity.
Things were falling apart everywhere. Spiritual, moral, social, cultural, and relational centers had lost their centripetal power, and civilization seemed to be gyrating uncontrollably away from its traditional moorings. Good people seemed to have lapsed into a kind of complacency, while those with evil intentions were dominating world event.
As Yeats considered the potential for re-establishing rationality to the world, he was not encouraged. In his poem, The Second Coming, he wrote concerning the world of his day and those who must now try to put it back together,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The world was in a rage, as Yeats saw it, and he despaired of anything but terror, violence, uncertainty, and horror in the days to come. At the end of his poem he asked,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?
A century of rage and vanity
Yeats was something of a prophet. As Paul Johnson demonstrates in his masterful history of the 20th century, Modern Times, the combined effects of Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudianism on the world of the 20th century were devastating. The world went mad, but only because its basic assumptions, desires, and purposes had been severed from the root of Christian civilization which, as Yeats saw it, was already rapidly slipping away at the beginning of the century.
If ever a passage of Scripture could be said to describe the world we live in, it must be these opening verses of Psalm 2. The Lord’s anointed King observed the world – not just of our day or His, but, in many ways, of every generation – thrashing about in rage and tumult. Wars, oppression, immorality, indecency, wickedness, violence, and death – these were the hallmarks of the 20th century, as Paul Johnson reports, and, alas, they continue to be all too familiar to and present with us in our day as well. They are the result of spiritual forces of wickedness enlisting powerful economic, political, and military entities in a mad effort to throw off the rule of God and establish human autonomy over all of life (cf. Rev. 16.13, 14).
“Why do the nations rage?” the Lord’s Messiah asks. And of what does their rage consist? The rulers and leaders of the world want to throw off the “bonds” and “cords” of God, by which He seeks to shape and direct them. Here is a reference to the Law of God, which has been written on the heart of every human being (Rom. 2.14, 15). In Hosea 11.4 God explained that His Law was given out of His loving kindness, so that men might love Him and one another as they are created to do.
But the world in every generation strives to break free of God’s Law, and all His Word, and to become a law unto itself (cf. Rom. 1.18-32). Raging and lurching and flailing about in all kinds of directions, a world striving to break free of God’s love and truth, and to become a law unto itself will only end up torturing and destroying itself.
Nor can it fully and finally be free of the lingering memory of the Law of God. It is futile – a vain thing – for people to try to escape something that is so much an aspect of their very being. Made in the image of God, all human beings have His Law written on their hearts. And though they deny it, suppress and shout down its voice, and try to bury the memory of God in the lies and half-truths of false worldviews and selfish desires, they are what they are – the image-bearers of God – and their raging and denials can never alter that fact.
God’s Word to the world
The raging and vanity of the world do not escape the notice of God. He remains sovereign, regardless of how loudly He is denied, denounced, or disobeyed. His rule extends throughout the vast cosmos and over all the earth, and He will accomplish His good purposes in His way and time. He does not simply bear with the nations while they, like children throwing a tantrum because their parent won’t let them put their fingers into the electrical socket, eagerly seek to be free of His commands.
God has a Word for the world, a Word of warning, promise, command, hope, and joy.
And it falls to us, who know the Lord and His Messiah, to make His Word known.
1. Do you think “rage and vanity” is a good way to describe the state of our world today? Why or why not?
2. In what ways is the Law of God like cords and bands of love?
3. Why can human beings never completely escape God or His Law? Explain.
Next steps – Conversation: As you understand it, what is God’s Word for the world? How does He respond to the raging and vanity of those who refuse to live by His standards and will? Talk with some Christian friends about this question.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.