Possession over Judgment


By Christopher Raley


The bluesmen who emerged from the Mississippi delta in the twenties and thirties of the last century were and are America’s psalmists. It’s not that they were Christian, although some of them portrayed a strong spiritual understanding in what they wrote, but that they established a way of story-telling to a form of music that became the foundation of American expressions of sorrow and ecstasy in song.

In the blues you hear the fears, joys, cravings, cruelties, and contradictions of the powerless dreaming of power. Arguably the most potent writer of this era was Robert Johnson who was fearless in his excavation of the dark corners of the soul.

In his song “If I had Possession Over Judgment Day” Johnson writes, “If I had possession over judgment day,/ Lord, the little woman I’m lovin’ wouldn’t have no right to pray.” The reference to the final judgment is clear, but what hits the listener harder is his admission that if he were the one calling the shots, mercy would not be foremost in his mind especially in relation to those who have hurt him.

Johnson’s use of the words “judgment” and “possession” remind me of Psalm 2. In this Psalm, God’s Anointed, whom God has setup as the King in Zion, tells what God has said to him: “Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

We know that the Anointed is Jesus, and at first his decree to “break” the nations sounds a bit like Johnson’s view of himself in the judgment seat. To be sure, that final judgment is coming, but God has extended the hand of mercy in the person of Jesus Christ and that hand is still open to us.

The psalmist of Psalm 2 goes on to conclude, “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned O rulers of the earth . . . Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

Unlike Johnson, who was ready to call the shots in what was a very short life (he died at age 27), our God and Father who is eternal is not willing that any should perish, even those plotting against him, and he is holding back the day of his wrath. This is an important point for us to absorb: the true possessor of judgment day was given it from the beginning of time, and when he came he could have claimed his possession along with all the other rights and powers of divinity.

But he denied himself his birthright, even to death, so that many might look on him and live. Even now he is waiting.