Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 23

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‘Sin and Shin’

The Vulcan hand salute is well known by Star Trek lovers. What few might know, though, is that Leonard Nimoy (a.k.a. Mr. Spock) borrowed the hand gesture from a Jewish priestly blessing, a blessing he had seen as a child performed in an orthodox synagogue. The blessing shapes both hands to represent the Hebrew letter Sin/Shin representing the initiating letter of God’s name, El Shaddai—Almighty God. It recognizes God’s omnipresence and His genius for affecting the lives of people.

“Always, everywhere, God is present,” observes A.W. Tozer, “and always He seeks to discover Himself to each one.” How does El Shaddai, the Almighty God, affect people’s lives—your life and mine? How does He discover Himself to each one? These are the questions the psalmist explores as he pens the stanza he entitles with the Hebrew letter ‘Sin and Shin’,

“Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word. / I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil. / I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law. / Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. / Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. / I wait for your salvation, O LORD, and I follow your commands. / I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly. / I obey your precepts and your statutes, for all my ways are known to you”(Psalm 119:161-168).

Worldly regimes, observes the psalmist, tend to be fundamentally opposed to faith. Eventually, all ideologies—even those founded on rights and freedoms—degenerate into special, privileged interest groups using government power for opportunistic reasons. The God-centred worldview and practice of believers becomes abhorrent to worldly regimes, whose laws, bemoans the psalmist, “persecute me without cause.”

Yet something unexpected occurs within the man or woman of faith, something that has happened throughout history, regardless of the believer’s age, race, sex, or socioeconomic status when faced with persecution for their faith. They stand and rejoice in the Promise of God.

For one thing, God’s intentions for people are not to persecute them but to bring them good. God doesn’t rule by external pressure but by internally transforming people who joyfully submit to Him. His plans are to give us hope and an eternal future. This, says the psalmist, is the source of the believer’s joy. Persecution takes on as much importance as a tiresome insect.

For another thing, a relationship with God is based on reality, on deep, enduring truths, rather than on the falsehood, corruption, folly and situational ethics to which earthly rulers fall prey. God is the author of truly righteous laws because He made us and understands the core of our being.

More than that, God’s law is a law that produces in its adherents a deep, penetrating peace because it brings people into alignment with God’s ways—that which C.S. Lewis terms, ‘the grain of the universe.’ “Nothing,” insists the psalmist, “can make th(ose who love God’s law) stumble.” “Nothing,” concurs the Apostle Paul, “shall separate us from the love of God.”

How does a person access this uncommon relationship with God? By pursuing human law, by depending on personal rights, freedoms and identity? No. The psalmist says he waits; he follows, he obeys, and he loves everything about God. His confidence is not in his own devotion; it is in God’s devotion to him. God creates, God initiates the human-divine relationship, God loves, and God provides the salvation believers all come to recognize we need.

Which brings us always back to Jesus Christ, God-fully-contained-in-a-man, the One who personifies the “law” about which the psalmist cannot stop praising. Hearts that tremble before Jesus, who rejoice in Him, who love the core truth of Him and take Him as their sure salvation are hearts fully at peace. Come to Him and find the peace that breathes, “…all my ways are known to you.”

 

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THE D.C., GOD, AND YOU, Part 4

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Where is Your God?

Adrianne Haslet-Davis knows what it’s like to have her support knocked out from beneath her. Surviving the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing incident, the dance instructor woke up after surgery minus her left foot. The sensation of numbness was piercing; how does a dancer dance on one foot?

The besieged King Hezekiah of ancient Judah knows that feeling too. The mighty empire of Assyriah has surrounded his city. The threat is very real. The field commander’s words are designed to undermine the foundations of his confidence. The enemy’s voice drips with sarcasm as he addresses Hezekiah.

“…You say to me, ‘We are depending on the LORD our God’ – (but) isn’t he the one whose high places and altars (you) Hezekiah removed…?” In other words, your fanatic worldview has left you void of resources. You haven’t a leg to stand on. You have no access to God. In fact, you have no God.

Haven’t we sometimes heard that same challenge? Hasn’t strafe from cultural censure attempted to damage our faith? Karl Marx shoots his dart – “Religion is the opiate of the masses” –  and Robert Heinlein aims his – “Religion is a crutch for weak-minded people”. Atheist Richard Dawkins and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura have repeated fire using that latter quote. We may even rephrase those questions ourselves at times of difficulty, asking ourselves, ‘Does God even hear me? Where is He now?” The dominant culture (D.C.) around us sets its point of equilibrium excluding God. It communicates that the concept of God puts the teeter-totter of our lives out of balance – tips us too far one way or the other. It recites failures and excesses of those for whom religion has justified terrible acts upon humanity. We are tempted to believe them, to keep our faith hidden, silent, and ineffectual fearing their challenge might be true.

How does Hezekiah respond to the bombardment of Assyriah’s verbal assault on his foundation of faith? He runs. Not literally, but he sends a message to his spiritual guide and it sounds like he’s been hit in the foot by shrapnel. Listen.

“It may be that the LORD your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore, pray for the remnant that still survives” (II Kings 19:4).

Hezekiah understands he needs help. He needs support from someone of like faith who can help him deal with the challenge, ‘Where is your God?” He echoes the enemy’s question by asking his guide to appeal to “your God”. The challenger knows Hezekiah has torn down high places and altars; their charred remains litter the surrounding hills.  He suggests Hezekiah has destroyed his own access to God. The Assyrian commander’s provoking interrogation leaves Hezekiah wondering.

The D.C. of today can cause us similar dismay. It is the first to point out the failures of organized religion, the weaknesses and hypocrisy. We extrapolate that to mean our own faith is an ineffectual prop, not worthy of broad universal application.

What Hezekiah needs help noticing is the error in his aggressor’s assertion: the fallen ‘high places and altars’ were never designated by God as His places of worship. In fact, he had forbidden their construction and usage. They were a form of god-manipulation without His endorsement. Hezekiah needs to see that rather than proving his God is absent, it illustrates God’s justice: no artificial worship succeeds for long.

Let’s take comfort from that thought. The trappings of idolatry, like the hypocrisies within religion will all fail. We are not religion loyalists – we are sons and daughters of Almighty God. Where is God? He is within us. He is behind, before, beside and beyond us. Never let the D.C. confuse us into thinking otherwise.