3For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” 4How can we sing the LORD’S song In a foreign land? Psalm 137:3-4
How can we sing songs of God’s victory over the powers while the powers slaughter God’s people and oppress the weak? How can we claim that Jesus has become King in a world that is still full of evil? It is certainly not always easy. The United States once freely identified as a “Christian nation” and simultaneously enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and growth. It was easy to be optimistic in that scenario. But there is a quickly growing animosity towards the Church in the West and a brashness of evil that seems to be on steroids. Witchcraft and all sorts of paganism are on the rise and many people have left the church altogether. Those who believe that it is okay to kill a baby in the womb have grown shamelessly bold by promoting laws to protect the practice of infanticide. In China, Christians are again being imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Church buildings are being dynamited in order to remind the Church that Communism rules in China and not Jesus. Many Christians in the West feel like our government is not so far removed from the same disposition. Optimism is withering in the face of this growing evil.
As Christians, we are not called to optimism but to faith, hope, and love. And we don’t hope in vain because we already have the living, abiding, hope of the presence of Jesus in our lives. We need to remember that Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth”( Matthew 28:18) and, “behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). If we are headed toward dark times in the Western Church, we must take comfort in the fact that Jesus descends into these dark times with us as He has promised. And this Jesus, who descends into the hole with us, is the same Jesus who has already conquered that evil. Therefore, if we descend into the pit, it is a pit in which Jesus is Lord and wants to exercise His authority.
It might very well be that Christians in comfort are so often sluggish about the work of new creation that God has called us to, that it seems necessary to lead us into the pit in order to bring us into the life-bringing vocation for which we were made. The apostle Paul asked, “How will they hear without a preacher? And how will they preach unless they are sent?” Maybe this experience of being surrounded by evil is nothing less than being sent by Jesus Himself into the dark places of the world in order to shine His light. It is not as though the world around us isn’t in deep sorrow and grief. It is just so easy to forget and ignore it when we ourselves are comfortable. How many of our neighbors are struggling with addiction, rejection, despair, suicidal inclinations, abuse, nightmares, loneliness, emptiness, guilt, brokenness, anger, etc. but we don’t know it because we are too busy trying to enjoy our lives as best as we can?
There is nothing wrong with enjoying life. That is indeed one of the main purposes of a good creation. But we cannot fully enjoy life if we are ignoring one of the most basic reasons for our existence, that of being the image bearers of God, the God who so loved the world that He gave His only son. Descending into darkness is not my idea of a good time, but being involved in the work of God of bringing the dead to life, bringing order where there is chaos, and bringing light where there is darkness is what I was made to do and it is what you were made to do. Ultimately, as God’s children, we are promised both the fulfillment of living up to the purpose for which we were made and enjoying the awesome, good, creation that God has made for us. But true happiness begins with the first.
So, we MUST sing the Lord’s songs in a foreign land, because the truth is, in spite of the oppression, it is no longer a foreign land. That is part of the Gospel announcement, that God has reclaimed the entire cosmos for Himself in and through the death and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains. China, the USA, North Korea and the whole planet belong to the Lord, and in the Resurrection, Jesus has reclaimed full Lordship over it all. Jesus said, “I saw satan fall from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18). If that is the case, let us sing about it and not listen to the lies that want to shut our song down. Let us fulfill our calling and vocation to be the light of the world and then let us watch that light save God’s good creation for us all to enjoy! The Israelites, our ancestors in the faith, advanced on their enemies in battle with a song (2 Chronicles 20:21). We who live on this side of the resurrection can do no less when we go into battle. After all, the Gospel is a proclamation of the arrival of the world’s true King. Why not sing about it? Proclaim the Gospel with music! How will they hear without a preacher? And when we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land, it makes the announcement that the land is no longer foreign. Rather, it is the dominion of Jesus to whom belongs all authority in heaven and on earth. So sing the songs of the Kingdom with your mouth and in your heart wherever you are and praise God from whom all blessings flow!