Singing of God as the Judge and Avenger

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This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for October 11 2020.

How often do Christians sing of and to God as Judge? Readers will find this theme in Scripture, yet contemporary worship music neglects to make use of it.

Psalm 94 is one biblical song that presents us God as Judge. It opens by identifying the Lord as the God of vengeance, calling on him to be seen as this God, and pleading with him to rise up and bring down justice, and to bring it quickly.

The majority of Christians today will be unfamiliar with songs such as this. Nevertheless, they are vital and valuable for God’s people. We impoverish ourselves by its neglect. Here are some reasons why:

  • A) Those who are wronged or oppressed are reminded of their hope for future vindication, and encouraged to leave justice to God rather than taking it upon themselves.
  • B) It reminds us not to enjoy the world in its estrangement from God so much, since it is under a guilty verdict.
  • C) Praising all and every truth about God is glorious in and of itself. These songs bring to us the praiseworthy goodness of the righteousness and holiness of God.

We may find this theme uncomfortable, but gladly affirming this is certainly a mark of healthy conformity to Divinity.

The Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf, reflecting on issues arising out of the bloody conflicts in South-eastern Europe in the 1990s, suggested that:

“The practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance… it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent it will invariably die.”

Exclusion and Embrace, 304, emphasis added.

This theme must, of course, be mediated by other considerations.

The Lord certainly will cleanse his world and he will certainly avenge his people, but he is not so partial that he turns a blind eye to perversity and wickedness in his own. We cannot sing like this without acknowledging our own wrongs.

Furthermore, a Christian practice of singing of God as the holy judge will also be tempered by the mercy he offers in Christ. We know our enemies must receive our forgiveness, just as God has already forgiven us. We know that before there is the final word of justice there is the present word of amnesty in Jesus Christ.

“Rise up, O Judge of the earth; give the proud what they deserve!” God is willing to punish evil and avenge his people.[1]

Where are our songwriters who will give us such songs of bold comfort in the holy and avenging God?

Our churches will be blessed by such songs – let them be written so we may sing as the Psalmist did in Psalm 94.

[1] Ps. 94:1; cf. 1Sa. 24:12; Luke 18:7; Rom. 12:19; 2Thess. 1:4-10; Rev. 19:1-3