Great is the Lord

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols    Ps 96:4–5 

When I listen to the news or page through online reports and commentary, it is astonishing that so much of the material is related to the topic of sex. It may be sexual misbehavior by a political candidate. It may be protests at attempts to limit abortions. It may be discussion of employers who sue to escape the legal requirement to provide free contraceptives in group health insurance. It may be gay marriage, or it may be about whether a person with a gender identity problem can use the girls’ bathroom at school. Sex is pervasive in the news, and there is daily raucous conversation in public about things people used to believe were subjects only for private, adult conversations.

Americans think they have come a long way since ancient times, but they have actually regressed in a major way; Americans worship the gods of the ancient cultures. Tribal gods in primitive cultures and gods in the state religions of ancient empires usually had their roots in the need for fertility of crops and livestock. Worship of the gods included sex acts of various kinds. The Bible records that the lure of the sexual element of worship of those false gods repeatedly drew Israel away from faithful worship of God. Today’s Americans are at least as focused on sex and sexual behaviors as the ancient religions that threatened Israel, and with less reason. The ancient worshipers hoped that their sexual activity would result in abundant food for the survival of the culture, but they also hoped that they themselves would have many children in order to perpetuate their own families. Today’s Americans want to have sex with anybody they choose at any time they choose with no consequences, not even pregnancy. All they want is the buzz. Everything else about sexuality is considered trivial and not worth mentioning. The cultural fixation on sex has led to the destruction of respect for fertility.

The American wish to have free sex with no consequences or connections has led to another ancient practice: Americans sacrifice their children. In ancient cultures, living children, post-born fetuses, fourth trimester babies, to use some of the current jargon, were routinely sacrificed to the gods for various reasons, or for no reason other than an alleged demand from the god. In the USA, children are routinely sacrificed for the purely selfish reason that the parties to copulation never wanted children, and had no intention to produce children. They just wanted the buzz. They don’t burn the child up on an altar or make a virgin cast herself into the sea. They take drugs that reverse normal body processes and reject the implantation of a fertilized egg. If that approach fails, or if they don’t decide to sacrifice the child till later, they resort to surgery and outright murder of a living, sentient baby. The news this year has included evidence of the murder of unwanted babies any normal human being would love and cuddle and welcome into the world. In a normal hospital the birth of a baby with life-threatening issues automatically initiates a full-bore effort to save the life of the baby. Yet we now know that many babies with no threat to their lives at all except rejection by their own mothers are murdered by the doctor, a person who took an oath, “first, do no harm.” How can people who do these things believe that they are in any way superior to ancients who burned up their babies for the gratification of an idol? How can Americans credibly proclaim that people are learning more and more about life and becoming better and better in every way when the number of babies aborted in the USA would populate a sizable country all by themselves if they came back to life.  

When the psalmist confronted cultural attitudes and behaviors like these, he responded. The psalmist saw and heard his culture acting on concert with idolators, engaging in orgies for the supposed gratification of the idol, burning their children to satisfy demonic gods. The psalmist chose instead to give his testimony to God in praise and thanksgiving:

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise.  Psalm 138:1

This choice of words creates the obvious image of a believer testifying to God’s love and grace, as well as God’s call to use the gift of sexuality the way God intended it to be use. Robert Alter interprets the scene this way: “I hymn to You in defiant presence before all these deities that people imagine to be real gods.” (Alter, The Book of Psalms, 2007, p.476) The rabid, frenzied defense of sexual libertinism in the culture is a testimony to the presence of those ancient demonic idols. Christians who deplore the abuse of the gift of sexuality and the sacrifice of children to the god of sex feel the presence of those demons. They, like the psalmist defy the culture, giving thanks to God for all his blessings including the gift of sexuality. They endure the scorn of the general population and even of some Christians when they praise God and uphold God’s standards for human beings – a call to treasure and respect the gift of life and the gift to reproduce life which is the gift of sexuality.

An important lesson of the Bible is that human beings never change. There is a popular way of thinking that says humans are becoming better and better, constantly learning new and better things about living. The evidence of human behavior is that humans from ancient times to the present prefer self-gratification to any other pleasure. There has been no change in that attitude, no improvement in the moral view of it. Libertine enjoyment of sex is the most powerful force for self-gratification, and it is easiest to justify it if you call self-serving behavior a good thing. It is justified by saying that the things that make a person feel happy are the things he should do. The current sexual attitude in the culture certainly looks just like the behavior of ancient idolators who at least attempted to cover up their lust with a spiritual wrapping. Contemporary hedonists don’t even bother. They don’t worry about hiding their behavior from a God whom they consider to be an imaginary friend.

The psalmist had one more message for the current culture. Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 both start with these words: “The fool says in his heart, There is no God.”  These psalms continue to describe the evil of those who reject God, that “not even one” does what is right. It is no comfort to Christians to figure out that contemporary people live by moral standards that were considered degenerate thousands of years ago. Rather, it is a reminder that we must look to God, and to the Bible for our moral guidance, not to the culture.

A couple of years ago, someone told me that if I did not endorse same-sex marriage, I would be on the wrong side of history. The psalmist reminds all of us that the judgment of history is the judgment of human beings. In the eternal scheme of things, the judgment of history matters not at all. It is only God’s judgment that matters. We may be on the “wrong side” of history, but it is much more important to be on the “right side” of God. Christ Jesus ascended to heaven where he sat down at the right hand of God the Father. When the landscape of history is burned up in fire it won’t any longer matter which side someone stood on. It will only be important to be standing with the Lamb at his marriage supper in the New Jerusalem. That is what the psalmist was saying when he wrote:

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise.  Psalm 138:1