Survival of the Fittest: A Sermon based on Psalm 72
I’d like to begin by reflecting on survival of the fittest. In evolutionary theory, survival of the fittest argues that the strongest organism has the greatest chances for genetic survival. You can see this at play if you’ve ever watched episodes of planet earth, which shows all sorts creatures battling with each other for the privilege of mating. There’s nothing quite like seeing one ton bull Walruses body slams each other in order to win the right to have kids. Can you imagine if humans had to win a series of sumo wrestling match right before their wedding day? Survival of the fittest isn’t just only about dominating potential mates. It also suggest that the strongest creatures will be more successful because they can most successfully hunt or gather food. As you walk along Eddy Park you can often see Bald Eagles sitting out in the open surveying the land. They don’t hide because they have no predators. They steal and kill whatever they wish, all other creatures cower before them. That’s the confidence of Survival of the fittest. The strong will survive.
We don’t have sumo wrestling matches before wedding ceremonies, but that doesn’t mean that survival of the fittest isn’t at play in human nature. The strong have dominated the weak since the beginning of history. The Egyptians used slave labour to build their pyramids. The Romans grew their vast empire through military domination. Medieval peasants had to labour for their Lord. These are all pictures of nations and races using their force to ensure their survival. Not much has changed. Corrie Ten Boom was imprisoned for her efforts to help Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust.
In our community, I know a person who’s grandpa served in the Canadian Military, but was denied not only the status of a veteran, and was also denied first nations status. I don’t know of any nation which has no history of dominating and oppressing those without power. Survival of the fittest is not a special descriptor for the animal world. Survival of the fittest is an accurate descriptor of life on our planet, from the smallest creature to the strongest nation.
So, where does survival of the fittest find its place in Psalm 72? Well, Psalm 72 is a Royal Psalm. The King is being addressed. Psalm 72 describes the king as the one who is most powerful. The king was the one who possessed power and dominion in his right hand. This King received tribute from all lesser people and nations. In the world in which only the strong survive, the King will outlive them all. Perhaps that’s why the Psalm says, “May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun.” The king is the Bull Walrus who can crush anyone in his way. But there is one thing that the King must do in order to ensure his survival. In Psalm 72, the King’s survival depends on how well he cares for the weakest. The purpose for the king’s strength is for him to protect the weak. Verses eleven and twelve say, “May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service… FOR he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.”
The king is given power in order to bring about justice. All nations will eventually serve this king , BECAUSE the king delivers the needy! This King judges the poor with with righteousness and justice. The King redeems the life of the needy from the grip of oppression and violence. This Psalm is saturated with expectation that the true King shall serve justly and his life depends on it! But that’s not the full picture. Caring for the needy isn’t just a way of ensuring his own survival. The King does all this for the needy and helpless because their blood is precious in his sight. The good king rules justly because human life is valuable to him!
But this is not so in the kingdom of survival of the fittest, where the only blood that’s valuable is one’s own. All other blood is counted as cheap. The cruelest rulers are those who are most fearful for their survival. Their anxiety about surviving, their anxiety about losing power brings them to do unspeakable things. But this Psalm says that the good king believes all human life is precious. This is because the good king meditates on the Word of God, and is profoundly moved by the first chapter of Genesis which says that all human life is precious because all people are created in God’s image. This belief shatters any notion that the value of humans reside in things like race or social status or achievements or gender. This makes no sense in a world where only the strong survive. But this is how the bible measures the worth of a King and a government. In the Bible, the measure of a good government or society is how well it looks after those who have no helper. That’s the platform of the King in Psalm 72.
When this king rules with justice, the world is changed. As the king helps the helpless and delivers the oppressed, creation itself is transformed through God’s blessing. The world becomes a place of abundance instead of scarcity. Verse 16 reads: "may there be abundance of grain in the land; may it wave on the tops of mountains.” The psalm says that not only will there be bumper crops, not only will the grain flourish on inhospitable places like mountaintops, but the grain itself will be lush and huge. This isn’t the only time talks about the King’s justice transforming creation. When God’s good king arrives and brings justice, Isaiah 11 tells us that the whole created order will turn upside down. When God’s King returns and rules with righteousness, God’s blessing will transform the land.
This is what it will look like: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. This picture would be just as astonishing to an ancient audience as it would be to Charles Darwin, as it would be to any parent looking in horror to see their child wondering into a pit of snakes. Yet when God’s justice arrives on earth, creation itself will be transformed. There will be no reason for survival of the fittest. God’s law isn’t based on domination the competition. A bunny won’t need to fear the eagles talons just as much as a vulnerable human won’t need to fear predators. God’s king rules with justice, and that justice ensures that all creatures are provided for, great and small.
Now, if someone were to campaign with these promises, they would be laughed off the stage. Who would elect a politician promising that when we govern with perfect justice and fairness, not even bears will have a need to kill for food? Instead, bear, and mole, and badger and rabbit will look for strawberries together. When put like that, it sounds a bit foolish, it sounds like a silly children’s book. But God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. God became human in order to accomplish that kind of foolishness. The one who was “in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” God became weak. In the survival of the fittest, Jesus wasn’t the Bull Walrus throwing his weight around. The Strongest in the universe made himself prey for predators.
Yet somehow, through this reversal of nature’s laws, the weakness of God was revealed as true strength. That passage ends by saying that because Jesus was faithful to the point of death, God highly exalted him, and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. It wasn’t the survival of the fittest, but the destruction of the fittest that changed the world. Through the death and resurrection of the God-King, the laws of nature were turned on their head and a new world order has come to emerge.
And this is our hope. Our hope is that there will be no death, no more survival of the fittest at the expense of the weak. That’s the hope that is held out not just in Psalm 72, but throughout Scripture. That’s why we long for Jesus to return and extend His rule from sea to sea. That’s why we long for Jesus to come and transform the world with justice. That’s why we long for the day when all nations shall call King Jesus blessed. When all kings shall fall down before him, and all nations shall give him service.
But what do we do until then? We’ve talked about our hope that the poor, needy, helpless and afflicted will be taken care of by God’s true King when His justice arrives. We’ve seen that through this King’s just rule, all creation shall be transformed. But what do we do until then? We find an answer when Psalm 72 is quoted in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. The end of Revelation paints a picture of what we’ve been talking about: the world is made new, the heavenly city comes to earth, the glory of God becomes the light of the world, “and the kings of the earth will bring their glory to it.” That’s right from Psalm 72. Often when someone talks about how great things will be when heaven comes to earth, I end up feeling a little flat. I start wondering, “well, what am I supposed to do in the mean time?”
We get a glimpse at the answer when Revelation quotes Psalm 72, which talks about kings offering the glorious things they’ve done on earth, and the nations serve Jesus as a gift. This suggest that until Jesus comes again, we do the sort of things that can be offered to Him as a gift. But what sort of gift might one give to King Jesus? Surely he doesn’t need more Gold, his streets are paved of it. Surely he doesn’t need pearls, his gates are made of them. What sort of gift might one give to the King described in Psalm 72? What might we do today that we could bring Him as a gift tomorrow?
Perhaps a gift one might give is ensuring the poor receive justice. Perhaps a gift might be helping people to live in shalom. Perhaps another gift to the King is defending the cause of the helpless. Perhaps a gift to this King is working to save the lives of the needy. Maybe a gift to the King is to make the world a beautiful place, a place where its not just the strong who survive. What if we used our strength, our gifts, our abundance for the benefit of others, for the world? Gifts like this surely will be received by our King. Gifts like this surely will endure to the end of time. As we work to turn the natural order upside down, as we work to ensure the survival of the weakest, we know we are participating in God’s work of bringing heaven to earth. We know that we are preparing creation for the day when all things are made new. The day when God makes his home among mortals. When God will dwell with us as our God. When God will wipe away every tear, and death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, the survival of the fittest will be no more. What shall be is the rule of the King, the law of the Spirit of life. Amen.