Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 19

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‘Pe’

There is a mantra, a cliché, a rumbling reaction whenever an ideological conflict arises between members of society. The most vocal insist their rivals are motivated by nothing less than ignorance and hatred along with a good dose of hypocrisy. Any expression in opposition to their voice is routinely termed harassment and is dealt with sternly. These are the current buzzwords. They are emotionally charged words intended to hijack and shut down all dialogue through the shaming of any dissenters. This is twenty-first century western society, and if you don’t agree, you must be one of the ignorant, hateful bullies out there.

It was not much different three millennia ago. The psalmist who wrote ‘Pe’, the seventeenth stanza of the longest Psalm, felt it. He understood that following the precepts of the eternal God—principles and standards for human flourishing—was not politically correct. He felt the oppression both from external sources and from his own internal bent toward selfish autonomy. But was he a perpetrator of ignorance, hatred, and harassment?

“Your statues are wonderful;” the psalmist begins, “therefore I obey them. / The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. / I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. / Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. / Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. / Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey your precepts. / Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees. / Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.”

Firstly, the psalmist recognizes that his faith is based on understanding—on reasoning and on thinking rightly about God, himself and the world around him. “The Bible,” explains theologian Timothy Keller, “teaches that faith is not only compatible with reason, but that it consists of, requires, and even stimulates profound thinking, reasoning, and rationality.” Christians are deeply committed to truth. So while Christians may need to discern the nuances and applications of truth in difficult areas, they are more likely to be committed to embracing truth than to hide in ignorance. All truth is God’s truth, and “exists,” explains John Piper, “to display more of God and awaken more love for God.”

This brings us to the second challenge. Are Christians defined by hatred? The psalmist describes people of faith as “those who love (Yahweh’s) name.” Jesus expands on that by summarizing God’s Law as “Love the LORD your God…and love your neighbour as yourself.” And the evening before His death Jesus reiterated His foundational command to His followers to “Love each other.” So, just as with ignorance, the accusation of hatred is neither founded nor representative of people who live by faith. A Christ-follower’s life and beliefs may be different from and unpopular with that of the culture around her, but it is not a result of hatred.

And thirdly, how does the psalmist address the accusation of hypocrisy? “Direct my footsteps,” submits the psalmist, “according to your word; let no sin rule over me.” The psalmist recognizes that integrity occurs when understanding and love inform action. Authentic living is the result of ceding God’s authority over our lives and then making choices that are in alignment with His sovereignty over us. Hypocrisy is either the result of saying ‘God is in charge’—but then living as if we are, or else of saying ‘There is no God and no basis for morality’—but then expecting others to abide by our subjective beliefs about ‘rights’. Both worldviews are foreign to Christianity.

The psalmist verbalizes for us that faith is the kingpin for right living. By faith we are given understanding, by faith we are enabled to truly love, and by faith we walk according to the light. These are not in, or by, or of ourselves, but as a result of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus who epitomizes truth, love, and authenticity. The more seriously we embrace faith, the less prone we will be to engage in ignorance or hatred or hypocrisy.

Photo Credit: MeghanBustardphotography

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Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 18

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‘Ayin’

The most awful realization is that one can never be good enough for God. It is also the most wonderful. No accumulation of good deeds could ever outweigh the sins we’ve committed or earn us eternal life, but then again, it doesn’t need to.

“The gospel,” explains theologian Tim Keller, “is, you’re more sinful than you ever dared believe, but you’re more loved and accepted in Christ than you ever dared hope.”

So in ‘Ayin’—the sixteenth stanza of Psalm 119—as the psalmist opens with the apparent corollary: “I have done what is righteous and just; do not leave me to my oppressors”, we must be careful not to make a faulty assumption. The psalmist is not saying that he has an inherent goodness, which has put God in debt to him to make his life easy. Rather, the psalmist knows of an ancient pronouncement made by God regarding humanity—a presage that hinted of a distant future: In order for anyone to truly flourish in full and joyful relationship with God, a certain Someone must and would come to “crush the head” of evil. Only then would the proper relationship between God and people be restored, would rebellion and its consequences be vanquished, and would love overrule law. Not surprisingly, the psalmist builds the remainder of his stanza around the theme of the loving Master-servant relationship. Listen.

“I have done what is righteous and just; do not leave me to my oppressors. / Ensure your servant’s well-being; let not the arrogant oppress me. / My eyes fail, looking for your salvation, looking for your righteous promise. / Deal with your servant according to your love and teach me your decrees. / I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes. / It is time for you to act, O LORD; your law is being broken. / Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.”

We need to consider our reaction to the psalmist’s three-fold use of the term “servant”. Virtually every human based master-servant relationship to ever have occurred in history has been painfully flawed: masters have abused their power causing much suffering; servants have resented their masters’ power, secretly trying to undermine it. It has been a lose-lose situation.

But imagine a Master whose character is noble and perfectly good, who is loving and generous and just. Imagine a Master whose goal is to empower His servants to steward tremendous resources put into their care. Imagine a Master who shares with His servants the fruit of all His labours and who helps them find greater freedom within their servanthood than they could ever experience in their rebellion. Imagine a Master who became human to “ma(k)e himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…and who…humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7,8). This is the Master-servant relationship the psalmist catches a glimpse of in his psalm.

The psalmist hints at this relationship because he–writer in the second millenium B.C.– occupies a place in history well before the arrival of Jesus, the Master-incarnated-as-servant. He is yet “looking for (the One who would be his) salvation.” But leaf forward through the pages of Scripture to the Gospel of John, and we hear Jesus speaking to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion.

“You call me Teacher and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13,14).

Jesus claims to be the Lord God, the eternal Master of humanity, calling loving hearts to be His servants, recipients of His love, to even become transformed individuals. And how must they demonstrate this new role? Like their Master, they must serve others with humility and love; they must demonstrate their new life to the Master who took the sting out of death by bearing the spiritual death penalty Himself in His crucifixion. They must fix their hope on the eternity their Master Jesus has prepared for them—an eternity of productive, fulfilling, beloved servanthood.

So while it is natural to call upon God to interrupt the oppression and injustice we suffer at times, it is important we recognize God’s greatest act of justice in the history of humankind—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death has made impotent the power of evil. His resurrection has given His followers new lives that will eventually be characterized perfectly by Christ’s own character.

Let’s join the psalmist in looking to God’s salvation, His righteous promise: Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, whose perfect goodness is credited to our account as we entrust ourselves to Him.

Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 17

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‘Samekh’

Kim Peek could read two pages of an open book at one time by splitting his vision. Using his unique savant skill, Peek was able to memorize more than 9,000 books while he had an IQ rated at only 87. It seems that the prenatal development of his corpus callosum—the tissue normally connecting the two hemispheres of a brain—had somehow been arrested, leaving him with a condition known as ‘split-brain’. The surgical operation to produce this condition is called corpus callosotomy, and is used to reduce epileptic seizures. It seems to accomplish its purpose, but it comes with the strange side effect of dis-integrated actions. In one instance, a split-brain individual was documented as finding himself pulling down one pant leg with his left hand while pulling up the other pant leg with his right because of dueling desires to undress and dress. There are difficulties with being double-minded.

In ‘Samekh’, the fifteenth stanza of Psalm 119, the Psalmist tackles the dilemma of double-minded thinking. He is appealing to God with deep intensity a prayer borne out of experience. He has felt the sting of opponents whose double-minded treachery has traumatized him. Perhaps he has even felt the influence of succumbing to their faithless double-dealing deceptions. The old King James version begins by translating his words as, “I hate vain thoughts…” Actions begin with thoughts, and none of us are immune to surrendering our minds to moments of low and ignoble imaginings in the hidden arena of our thoughts. Hatred against this most base indication of human degradation is appropriate. There is something in each of us—the vestige of a memory—that knows we were created for true and noble thoughts; we cringe when we recognize how far and how easily we can slip from the single-minded, undivided loyalty to our Creator and His calling.

With this caveat in mind, we read a newer version/translation of the stanza to say, “I hate double-minded men, but I love your law. You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.”

Why does the psalmist contrast double-mindedness with loving/hoping in God’s word? It sounds like he’s comparing apples to obelisks. We might need to begin by exploring and defining double-minded thinking.

Double-mindedness is a mindset of dualism that separates life into disconnected categories. Relationships, work, leisure, goals, desires, character and behaviour all stand apart from one another, and may be manipulated to achieve whatever an individual desires. There is no regard for any integrated whole to the sum of the parts of that individual’s life. If one were to investigate this kind of life more thoroughly, one would find inconsistencies and illogical, indefensible reasoning, a foundation crumbling from within. Double-minded thinking causes people to reject truths that annoy them and imprecate “Ignorant!” to deflect reality from piercing their souls.

Whereas, loving God’s revealed truths—His principles for living, His solution for our rebellion and His goals for our future—is the epitome of single-minded wholehearted thinking. It provides an integrity for our lives. It gives cohesion and logical coherence to everything we think, say and do. Only God can provide true single-mindedness. He does it by directing us to “Fix (your) eyes on Jesus,” to “Set your minds on things above…with Christ,” and to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves…(but to) do what it says(!)”

This is why Jesus is quoted so many times as prefacing His remarks with the phrase, “I tell you the truth.” It is because He intends us to pay close attention to His words, to mull over them, to discuss them with other people and wrestle with the concepts until we can incorporate them fully into our lives. His words make us people of integrity and are the only remedy for double-mindedness.

“I will give them singleness of heart and action” promises God to the body of people He considers His children. What a promise! Let’s reach out and embrace Jesus, accept the gift, and embody the trueness He longs to impart deep into our being.