“Sam”, the so-named petrified remains of an ages-old Tyrannosaurus Rex, towers over the other displays of natural history at Vancouver’s Science World. Jaws gaping, one huge hind leg stretching metres beyond the other, tiny forelimbs posed to attack; this is not T-Rex as he was in life. The description posted near his claw-like feet explains this is not a bony skeleton on display. When this dinosaur had perished in a streambed somewhere in what is now called South Dakota, his body had eventually been entombed under layers of silt and other debris washed downstream or settled after a flood event. Over time, minerals like quartz and iron carbonate within the groundwater slowly seeped over and into old Sam’s bones making a tremendous change in Sam. Dissolving the matrix of bone tissue, and replacing it drop by drop with its own rocky characteristics, the minerals remade Sam—or at least remade his bones. The deep mottled browns of Sam’s new skeleton attest to its altered composition.
Dinosaur bones aren’t the only framework changed by the environment in which they immerse themselves. The poet responsible for penning Psalm 119 moves into the segment labeled Beth, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, emphasizing the influence of God’s Word upon the human heart.
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119:9-16).
What does the psalmist mean by heart? We know he doesn’t mean the organic muscular organ responsible for pumping blood through the human pulmonary system. He’s no cardiologist. He is using heart as a metaphor for the deepest seat of value a person possesses. Heart—as he and we often use it—is the core of an individual’s value system; it is the abstract place within each of us where we assign worth to the things we appreciate. Perhaps the psalmist pairs the thoracic heart with the metaphysical heart as a result of the physical sensations our cardiac organ creates: the pounding when fear, excitement or a burst of action have occurred, the pain when something obstructs its oxygen supply, the weight and tension when the cardiac muscle is compromised. The metaphor helps us assign concrete words to the abstract reality of our metaphysical heart.
So when the psalmist asks the question, “How can a young (person) keep his way (integrated and authentic)?” he answers it by saying that an integrated life comes only by absorbing oneself in the value system God exudes—and which He has communicated to humans through His Word. This is what he means by explaining, “I have hidden your word in my heart.” Through painstaking persistence in immersing himself in God’s Word, God’s moral absolutes become the psalmist’s moral fiber. God’s holy character traits become his fortifying nature. God’s transforming love becomes his source of compassion.
As N.T. Wright puts it in After You Believe (2010), “…these are not…”Rules for the New Life,” but habits of heart and mind, ways of learning how to think Christianly about the ultimate future and about the pathway toward it—the pathway which is, as it were, a daily resurrection.”
Which brings us back to the petrification process Sam the T-Rex and other ancient artifacts have experienced. It might be helpful if we think of immersing ourselves in God’s ways (His Word, His values, His instructions for human living) as a sort of moral version of the petrification process. (Note, we don’t need to be sunk under silt for eons in order for this to happen!). As we consistently make choices based on God’s revealed ways (defined above), His moral fiber begins to replace our weak, capricious, unprincipled tendencies with true human maturity and dignity. Rather than decaying, we experience resurrection, not only for eternity but daily and even hourly as we submit to God and rely on His powerful reconstruction process in and for our lives.
(Photo Credit: Copyrighted free use, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3492758)