The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Waiting for the Judge

Is praising God necessary preparation for understanding God’s judgment?

by Russell Rathbun

Psalm Reading: Psalm 98

For Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010: Year C – Ordinary 33

Praise is something that I’m uncomfortable with.

I come out of a tradition that has very specific ideas of what it means to praise God. There is a genre of music called, “Praise Music” otherwise known as “Worship Songs” or “Choruses.” There are also gatherings known as “Prayer and Praise Concerts.”

My experience with this music and the way it is used has contributed to my sometimes cynical, satirical assessment of contemporary Christian culture.

Troubling Earnestness

I think it must be the earnestness that is troubling to me. It is the manufactured sincerity. I know insincere sincerity, and it’s hard to watch.

In my aversion to praise music there could also be a bit of embarrassment. I remember all the times I held my hands above my head waving them slowly back and forth, tears flowing from my closed eyes.

I remember the times when I was moved by the trance-inducing twenty minute version of a chorus to respond to the preacher, to come forward for prayer, to give my life to Jesus yet again, or to dedicate my life to full time Christian service. I feel a little embarrassed and a little mad on behalf of my twelve-year-old self.

Those songs were used to manipulate me.

Makes My Teeth Hurt

When I read Psalm 98, the praise songs from my past come flooding back; I can think of a song for almost every stanza of this Psalm. It kind of makes my teeth hurt, the syrupy sweetness of the melodies.

Except for the last stanza − that one I have never heard that in a Praise Song.

He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

I really like that part. It is obvious from this post that I am really into judging — other people. It seems curious to me that all this praise is concluded with this joyous pronouncement of judgment.

God’s judgment is a welcome thing, exposing our sin to the light, putting it out there and trusting in the love and mercy of God. Maybe praising is about putting it out there as well, an ability to expose one’s emotions (dare I say, one’s heart) to the One who can be trusted.

The Hardest Question

Is praising God necessary preparation for understanding God’s judgment?

Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.


  1. Pastor Scott Hill says:

    Perhaps the inverse of your question is more fitting…

    Is understanding God’s judgmentnecessary preparation for praising God?

How do you read?