Read Psalm 47.
A few months ago, it was finally time. I had been waiting for this moment ever since Laurin and I found out we were going to have a child. Jonah, our oldest, turned six years old. That meant he was finally old enough to see Star Wars—old enough for his first dose of the light sabers, droids, and pew-pew-pew.
Because I’m not a grotesque monster, we’re watching the films in theatrical release order, not episode order, so we started with Episode IV: A New Hope and then moved on to Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. About a half-hour into Empire, Jonah asked me, “Dad, is Darth Vader going to die, or will he become good?” In that moment, I was beaming. My beautiful, sweet son was figuring out how stories work.
Good books and movies often give us a dose of justice and redemption. Of course, it’s not always the main villain who’s redeemed, but there is hope for all the Edmunds who initially side with the White Witch, for all the Grinches who try to steal Christmas, and for all the Professor Snapes who were once Death Eaters. That’s how it is with the story God is writing—all the heroes were once enemies of the Lord. Everyone still standing at the end will have experienced redemption.
As I opened to Psalm 47 this morning, I was reminded that God’s justice is often served up with a generous helping of grace: “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the LORD Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth. He subdued nations under us, people under our feet” (vv. 1–3). The psalmist is looking toward the future when God will reign on the earth, and in what might seem like a contradiction in many other stories, he calls the nations that God will defeat to “shout to God with cries of joy.” In the story of redemption, often the best thing that can happen to a nation or a person is to lose to God.
Saul was God’s enemy. He thought he was serving the Lord as a devout Pharisee. He wanted to destroy the church since, in his mind, followers of Jesus were distorting Scripture and leading people astray. He was standing up for the truth of God’s Word, or so he thought. But then the Lord knocked him to his knees on the road to Damascus and blinded him (Acts 9:1–19). Saul, also called Paul, was never the same again. As far as goals and ambitions go, he lost big time. God won. But God didn’t just judge the angry Pharisee who arrested and murdered His people; He saved him. Saul discovered the joy of losing to God. To paraphrase Psalm 47, “Clap your hands, Saul of Tarsus; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord has subdued you under His feet!”
Scripture tells us that at the end of history, many of Israel’s historical enemies will join with God’s people, and together they will all worship the Lord:
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:23–25)
At the end of history, the throngs upon throngs of people shouting praises to the Lord will come from the ranks of losers. Every last one will have lost their stubborn soul’s battle with God, having surrendered to His mercy, His will, and His glory. They will have died to themselves, only to find they have been made new by the Lord and have been invited to join in the victory song.