The meeting of the G8 gives Psalm 82 a particular resonance.
God presides over a great assembly; he gives judgement among the "gods".
The "gods" referred to here are the world's leaders.
How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?
Isn't this just how it is now? All over the world the rich line their pockets at the expense of the poor. In the news at the moment is the sale of warplanes to Saudi Arabia by BAC systems. It has been suggested that over the past 20 years this deal has meant that "backhanders" of 1 billion pounds have been paid to a Saudi prince in order to secure the deal, and that Tony Blair has quashed an investigation into the deal for fear of prejudicing the current phase of the deal.
Leaving aside the morality of selling arms to an autocratic regime, the notion that some matters and some people are above the law is extremely distasteful.
Last night, at long last, I got to see Martin Scorsese's movie, "Gangs of New York". Despite his obvious immorality, Bill the Butcher, at least as played by Daniel Day-Lewis was an engaging character, far more attractive than Leonardo Di Caprio's Amsterdam. He was entertaining and a natural leader, generous to his followers and intelligent. Yet his blatant and brutal murder of the newly elected Sheriff (Brendan Gleeson) in front of many witnesses displayed his arrogant contempt for the law. I don't care how many of these little people see me, I am above the law. The law in New York at the time of the Civil War was certainly corrupt, but no leader should set himself above the law.
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor an oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
In one sense Bush and Blair were trying to do that when they invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. I know that many other reasons both good and bad have been imputed to them. The best that can be said of them is that they were naive. The worst, that they were venal and woefully unconcerned for the lives of both our soldiers and their civilians.
But go back a term and we see Blair and Clinton intervening in Kosovo and eventually in Bosnia. They were commended for these interventions and blamed that nothing was done in Rwanda and earlier in Bosnia. Even now some are calling for armed intervention in Darfur.
Both Bush and Blair and even Clinton declare themselves as Christians. They will not have been unaware of the thrust of this Psalm, which is a common theme throughout Scripture.
There were many lessons to learn from the G8 meeting on the Baltic. Both Bono and Geldoff were disparaging about the results of the last commitment to aid the poor of Africa. Paradoxically it was the 'bad boys', the UK and the US, who were meeting their commitments while the 'good guys', Canada and Italy, under the socialist Prodi who were welshing on the agreement. (Interesting also that those who gave aid in the wake of Katrina were mostly Christian groups headed by the Salvation Army, with the secular humanists nowhere.) I can understand an argument that says that aid to Africa is wasted because it goes straight into the pockets of corrupt rulers and stunts the people's need to work hard to get themselves out of the mess; but to promise to give aid and then fail to keep your promises is particularly creepy.
The 8 richest nations naturally want to compete with one another to increase their market share. The whole point of a meeting like this is to define areas of truce. The developing (what a euphemism!) world can't compete and needs help. If the rich can do anything for the poor then number 4 needs to know that number 5 will not steal a march on him while he is being kind to number 174.
Sadly, verse 5 of Psalm 82 all too aptly describes the world's political state:
They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
Pop stars judge them. Newspapers judge them. History will judge them. Tony Blair has been touring the world seeking to secure his legacy. In the next couple of years, he, Bush and probably Putin will all leave office. It is not the judgement of history they should fear.
I said, "You are 'gods'; you are all sons of the Most High". But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler. Rise up, O God, judge the earth for all the nations are your inheritance.
Should Christians concern themselves with politics? That was the essence of the question put to Jesus in Mark chapter 12 verses 13-17. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? Jesus' smart reply was to ask to be shown a penny. "Whose image and inscription are there?" "Caesar's" "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's".
Had he said no they would have evidence of insurrection, had he said yes he would have lost the love of the people. Cleverly he avoided that dilemma. But he also said more than that.
Some Christians have seen this as an order to compartmentalize their lives. You have your Christian life and you have your secular life and never the twain shall meet. Others have seen it as an instruction to strict separation. Keep out of the world. Don't vote, it only encourages them. Never get involved in politics. Stick to evangelism and worship. You should not have time for worldly things.
In my view, both attitudes are in error. The clue to understanding this passage is in the word 'image', sadly missing in the NIV. Caesar's image was on the currency, but where is God's image? You just have to look in the mirror. We are made in God's image, so when we give Caesar his currency, we give God what is carries his image, we give Him our lives, not in part but the whole. So there is no part of our lives that is off limits for God and there is no part of God's world that is off limits for God. There is no dichotomy between spiritual service and secular service. Ruth Graham reputedly had a notice over her kitchen sink which said 'Christian Services will take place here three times a day'. Billy's preaching was no more in God's service than Ruth's washing up. We can be a soldier, a missionary, a world leader, a preacher, a builder, a deacon, a carpenter, a Sunday school teacher, a mother or a floor scrubber to the glory of God. It is all God's world.
Some of the threats and persuasions that Christian leaders have used to influence politicians have given Christianity a bad name. If you are a Christian you don't have to be either right or left wing, but you do have to be honest, of good will, self sacrificing, truthfull, kind, loving, peace-loving, faithful, gentle and self controlled.