Psalm 98: Emperor Palpatine and True Power

Everything that has transpired has done so according to my desires.” – Emperor Palpatine, The Return of the Jedi

I remember watching the original Star Wars movies when they were first in the theater. I loved everything about the stories but in particular, I identified with the longing that Luke had as he tried to find his place in the universe. But there was a dark side to my enjoyment of the movies centered around Darth Vader and The Emperor. In particular, I loved the scene where Luke is brought by Darth Vader to finally confront The Emperor in his throne room aboard his ship inThe Return of the Jedi. What appealed to me was The Emperor’s claim that all had occurred according to his plan. Everything, even those things seemingly going counter to The Emperor’s plan had been orchestrated by him to achieve a single goal: that is, to wipe out the rebellion. To a child in his late teens, such power is tantalizing.

But there is another reason why The Emperor’s claims were so seductive. I’ve always known God orchestrated all the events of the universe to accomplish his goal of salvation, and in some way, The Emperor’s claim resonates with God’s power, but there are two major differences. First, God’s plan is certain, and secondly, God’s plan was made prior to creation. God did not react to sin after it happened in the garden, God planned the salvation of humanity PRIOR to his creation of humanity. This means that God not only knew man would fall, but man’s fall was part of God’s eternal plan. Let that one sink in for a minute.

I’m not saying I understand how this works, but it seems clear that it is true. Let me walk you through some scriptures to explain what I mean. Psalm 98:1-3 tells us that the Lord has prepared his salvation for his people before revealing it to his people and the watching world. Given the place of this claim in the Psalter, it seems like God is responding to the plight of Israel, and while that may be the case other scriptures clarify what is meant by “His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” Paul starts to give us a deeper understanding of this claim in Colossians 1:26 where he describes the gospel as “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” He finally clarifies this mystery in Ephesians 3:7-11, when he describes the gospel as “…the unsearchable riches of Christ…the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things…according to his eternal purpose that he as realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thus, God’s salvation for humanity predates Christ’s coming to earth. It predates the writing of the Psalms, the fall of Adam in the garden, and even the creation of the earth and the universe. God’s salvation for humanity is bound up in his eternal nature of which there is no beginning and for which there is no end. This means that there was not a moment (How do I speak about this?, What terms do I use for an eternal being for whom time is not a constriction?) in the whole of God’s existence when he was not working out his salvation. This is the same salvation the psalmist writes of in Psalm 98; the same salvation the Jews anticipated throughout their entire history; the same salvation coming to us on the cross; and the very salvation promised to Adam in Genesis 3:15. None of these were reactions to the actions of depraved humanity, all of them are extensions of the same salvation that is rooted in eternity prior to God speaking the universe of time and space into existence.

Unlike the power and prescience of Emperor Palpatine, this power of God’s is truly remarkable. It is remarkable because it is beyond our comprehension. It is remarkable because it is beyond our power. It is remarkable because it can never be thwarted. And it is remarkable because God, knowing that I would be “chief among all sinners” (as we should all be able to claim), still created us with the intention of redeeming us from our willful escape from his loving arms.

And unlike the Emperor who sat robed in power aboard the most powerful ship in the universe, God came to us as the most helpless of all: a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. This is why the Psalmist says,

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
the Lord has made now his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nation.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.

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