Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 12

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‘Yodh’

Is there a difference between optimism and hope? “Both optimism and hope,’ explains Miroslav Volf (Against the Tide), “entail positive expectations with regard to the future. But…they are radically different stances toward reality.” Optimism is looking at past or current conditions and mapping out likely positive future occurrences based on those experiences. It is based on circumstances and situations. Hope, in contrast, explains Volf, “is grounded in the faithfulness of God and therefore on the effectiveness of God’s promise.” Yodh, the tenth stanza of Psalm 119, illustrates for us what hope—not optimism—looks like.

Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands. / May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word. / I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. / May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant./ Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight. / May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause; but I will meditate on your precepts. / May those who fear you turn to me, those who understand your statutes. / May my heart be blameless toward your decrees, that I may not be put to shame” (Psalm 119:73-80).

The psalmist has had, or is currently experiencing, troubles of some sort. He’s suffering. He’s been “wrong(ed) without cause” and “afflicted.” He’s a rational person and there is no good reason to be optimistic based on his situation. He cannot extrapolate any realistically good outcome from his current experience with any sense of reliability. Optimism has failed him.

But listen to the hope infusing this segment of the psalm—words like “rejoic(ing)”, and “delight” explode the myth that pain removes dignity from life. Rather, in the midst of his pain, the psalmist looks to his Maker, the LORD God, to be faithful to His promise to be loving and compassionate to him. He is comforted by this relationship of love that God has initiated; he rests heavily on the faithfulness that defines God.

Circumstances have no power over the lives of those who entrust themselves to God. This is the most freeing truth the Biblical text communicates. While optimism can too easily shift to become despair, anchoring our hope in a loving God brings lasting peace and a solution to the dilemma ‘How do I live victoriously in the midst of suffering?’

It all comes back to promise. The faithfulness of God is always expressed and communicated to us in the form of promise. The psalmist recognizes this and reminds himself and God with the phrase “according to your promise.” And what is this promise? It is the theme that runs throughout the Bible from start to finish, spoken and respoken in many ways. An earlier psalm phrases it this way: “All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed” (Psalm 72:17b). The promise is Jesus whose purpose was and is to bless all peoples through His work on the cross—the unthinkable death of the Author of life bringing unimaginable life to those who were enslaved by death. He is Promise and He is Hope.

The result of living life with hope is a greater awareness of God’s thoroughgoing involvement in our daily lives. We become more aware that He made us with all our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social complexities. We become more resolved to submit to God’s ways (vs.73), more sensitive to encouraging others (vs.74), more open to God’s faithfulness, compassion and love in the midst of suffering (vs.75-77), more faithful in obeying God’s precepts (vs. 78), more connected to others who also fear God (vs.79), and more wholehearted in relationship with God (vs.80). Hope restores our humanity to us through the perfect humanity of Christ.

God never gives us second best. That is why hope beats optimism every time. Promise gives a preview of how life not only ought to be, but will someday truly be. Hope in the Promised One will take even the worst of our suffering and transform us into people with the character of the perfect God-man, Jesus.

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 27

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Saving Self.

Everyone loves a hero, don’t they? Heroes make us feel like there is hope for our species. Deep inside, we want to believe we are heroes just waiting for the opportunity to reveal our true selves—like Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent—bursting from our commonplace garb, revealing our altruistic selves. But altruism, says psychology, is nothing more than one of three evolutionary survivals: survival of the fittest (meaning ‘oneself’), survival of the genes (meaning ‘one’s children or close relatives’), or survival of the species (meaning ‘humanity in general’). This cynical view strips humanity of its soul making us nothing more than animals at best and machines at worst. So we struggle, wondering whether there really are any heroes, whether there is any hope for our species.

The gospel writer, Matthew, brings us to Chapter 27, the second-to-last chapter in his biography of Jesus Christ. In the first 26 chapters he has recorded Jesus healing the sick, restoring the socially outcast, reviving the dead to life. Jesus has drawn from His limitless resources as Son of the All-Powerful One to bring healing and hope to those in His daily walk who, by faith, are willing to be healed. But an antagonism to Christ has been slowly revealing itself. There was the edict of Herod, upon hearing of the Bethlehemic birth of one “born king of the Jews”, to kill all infant boys in Bethlehem; there was Satan’s devilish oppression of Jesus during His forty-day fast in the desert; there were the religious leaders who attempted to put obstacles into Jesus’ path wherever He journeyed and who plotted his murder; and there was Judas Iscariot’s greed-inspired betrayal of his Lord bringing about Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

And as Jesus, naked, torn and bruised by the Roman soldiers’ merciless beatings and floggings, hung suspended on his cross, the cruelties took voice; the oppression culminated in the hated-filled accusations flung at him by other cross-hanging prisoners, by passersby and by the religious icons of His day.

“(S)ave yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’”

What was the crux of these angry and hateful charges? The general mob and the ruling social religionists were expressing a twisted ideology of heroism. Real heroes, they claimed, save themselves first. Real heroes always submit to the three evolutionary survivals, all of which are based on self-centred considerations. And real heroes conform to our ideas of what supernatural power should look like. In other words, if you really are God in human flesh, Jesus, you’d better behave they way we expect, or else leave our lives, our neighbourhood and our planet up to us.

What they never expected was that this Son of God was the embodiment of altruism itself. He was following God’s agenda, not mankind’s. He was saving us at the expense of His own life, taking on the full weight of God’s just wrath against a rebellious species. He was and is the Hero we all need more desperately than we often know.

But don’t think for a moment that Jesus was suffering from a psychosis of self-injurious behaviour. There was something in the horrific death that would benefit Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him…and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What was that joy? It was the joy of enabling people like you and me to be back in right relationship with God; it was the joy of giving us a real choice of heaven over hell; it was the joy of filling eternity with eternal-living humans who finally realize their true potential as worshipers of the living God and as accomplishers of tasks more satisfying than our old cursed world could ever supply.

So let’s come to the cross of Jesus today. Let’s see Him as He truly is, the hero of our souls and rescuer of our lost humanity. Let’s invite His Spirit into our lives today; and let’s live out a continuation of His mission of loving God and loving others well. That’s what Jesus’ heroism is all about.

(Photo credit; By yorkshireman – http://pixabay.com/de/kreuz-gespeichert-strand-ring-631002/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39762052)