Saturday, July 31, 2010

Psalm 82 and Human Gods

The Psalms refer to men as "gods" in a number of places, and Jesus defends His own deity on the basis of Psalm 82.

"God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods... I said 'You are gods,' and all of you are sons of the Most High. But you shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes." (Ps. 82:1, 6-7)

In the middle portion of Psalm 82, the psalmist complains that the rulers of the earth do not do justice or perform mercy. He calls them to defend the poor and the fatherless, to free the poor and the needy from the hand of the wicked. But they do not understand; the foundations of the earth are unstable. And so they will fall and die even though they are princes. The psalmist ends by calling upon God to arise and judge the earth and inherit the nations.

"Gods" in this psalm clearly refers to people, rulers, sons of the Most High. The "gods" have failed to deliver, to save, to heal, to hold up the earth in security as they ought.

But where other psalms are perhaps a bit more vague or ambiguous, this psalm teaches that we ought to read "gods" as a broader category than merely "carved images" or other demonic/evil beings or natural/created phenomena bolstered by imagination and superstition. Human beings are "gods," and therefore Yahweh is "a great God, a great King above all gods" (Ps. 95:3) Worshipers of images should be ashamed of themselves, and all the gods should worship Yahweh (Ps. 97:7). Yahweh is great and a Lord above all the gods (Ps. 135:5). Give thanks to the "God of gods" for his mercy endures forever (Ps. 136:2). David sings praises to Yahweh before the gods (Ps. 138:1).

While there are clearly places where the "gods" refers to carved images and false/evil gods, having a broader category of "gods" implies a broader application of these psalms, particularly in the New Covenant where Jesus has triumphed over the principalities and powers and shown the worthlessness of idols. In the New Covenant era, while there is still idolatry and evil spirits in the world, the western Christian world is largely doing battle with human gods. The central question is whether the gods are in submission to the God of gods, the Lord of lords or not.

What is striking is that Jesus defends His own deity in at least one place on the basis of Psalm 82: Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "you are gods."? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him who the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? (Jn. 10:34-36)

But this doesn't confirm some kind of Jehovah's Witness or Mormon anti-Trinitarian theology by any stretch. There are plenty of places to turn to defend and explain the full, eternal deity of Jesus. But in our haste and delight in the doctrine of Incarnation and Trinity, we should not miss the fact that the humanity of Jesus is not only essential for the atonement, for bearing the just sentence we deserve on the cross, but His humanity is also all bound up with the original and final intent of God for His sons. The Son of God came to be a perfect son so that He might bring many sons to His glory. God came for the fallen gods of this world so that He might cause us to share in His divine nature, restoring us to His glory so that we, like Him, might be gods who heal, deliver, redeem, and save.

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