From Charlie Glenn
Psalm 145 confronts us with one of the basic puzzles of the biblical testimony about God’s intentions toward humanity. “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made,” we are told in verse 9, but then in verses 18-20 we learn that some people enjoy a special relationship with God, since “the Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.”
So is God’s loving care selectively directed only to those who are in a relationship with him based on devotion, awe, and love? Or is it indiscriminately lavished also on those who turn away from him, since “the Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (verses 14-16)?
I’m not raising these questions to be difficult; how we answer them has important implications for our relationship, as Christians, with the wider society and our vocations in the world. Sociologists of religion distinguish between “fundamentalists” who seek to shelter their distinctiveness from the prevailing culture, and “evangelicals” who seek to engage with and change that culture. If we believe that God is concerned only with those, like ourselves, who are in a special relationship with him, we will be concerned with freedom and justice for those like us, but not with the agonies of a wider society determined to ignore or reject God.
We should approach this apparent paradox not as a matter of either/or but of both/and. The biblical witness is that our deep propensity to sin and corruption of God’s intentions in Creation would have turned life on earth into a living hell; that only through his “Common Grace,” extended to all people, including those who don’t know or acknowledge him, have we been able to live together in (generally) stable societies and nurture shared and productive cultures. As Christians, we are called to be part of this loving care toward all of Creation, including those in rebellion against God.
But the Bible witnesses also to the Saving Grace that God extends as a free gift to those of us who, through no merit of our own, have come to know and trust him as our Lord. Why me? we should ask in happy astonishment, while building our lives on his faithful promise, in grateful discipleship nurtured by the Holy Spirit.
While this is beyond our understanding, we know that it is consistent with his justice, for “the Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does” (verse 17). Praise God!
I’m a retired inner-city pastor, government official, and professor, astonished every day by God’s loving care and by the blessings of family and friendship.