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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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 25

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The Seen and the Unseen.

Our world is full of mysteries, of things we can’t see, of things we don’t know or can’t fully understand. We don’t generally like unknowns, though, so we tend to do what we can to fill in the blanks, to have the information we need to make our decisions, to live our lives.

This is the basic premise of our western philosophy of human reason: we are faced with a world of external and internal mysteries—from forensics to finance, from meteorology to astronomy to astrophysics, from psychology to sociology—and we use our human capacity for reason to solve these mysteries more or less successfully. We do it by using the known to help us explore the unknown; we employ the seen to envision the unseen.

We ought not be surprised to discover, then, that God’s plan for the world from the moment of its conception would include both the seen and the unseen. He Himself is Spirit, invisible to eyes like ours, eyes designed to capture only objects within the physical realm. Yet, His plan involved expressing Himself in human form for roughly thirty-three years—a tiny blip on the map of human history—using that moment of His visible presence to explain the millennia before and after it when His presence has been invisible to human eyes. He expects us to use our God-given aptitude for reason to fill in the blanks so that our lives are congruent with reality—the reality that He still exists, He still inhabits our world even though He is unseen by us just now.

In Chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel we are given a glimpse of how the seen and the unseen are going to cohabit in our world until the time God brings a conclusion to this era.

In this chapter, Jesus tells a parable. He describes a scene, a social panorama of in-group and out-group members, of people today we would call ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. The ‘have-not’ individuals are described as wounded and needy people. They are those who are hungry and thirsty, strangers, disenfranchised, impoverished, sick and unfairly imprisoned. The ‘have’ individuals are us, you and me.

Jesus explains that in each of our lives we will rub shoulders with people who, in comparison to us, will be ‘have-nots’. They will have fewer resources than us, fewer social or emotional supports and less financial freedom. They will have suffered under more unjust systems, or they have been more carelessly treated by society as a whole than we have been. How we treat the ‘have-nots’ of our world matters, because Jesus says He sympathizes and identifies with them.

“Whatever you (do) for one of the least of these brothers of mine,” explains Jesus, “you (do) for me.” In fact, caring for others’ needs is both descriptive and prescriptive of accessing a full and eternal relationship with our Creator. Listen:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

This doesn’t negate the need for us to accept Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on behalf of us—that was the purpose of his 33-year sojourn on earth. But having become ‘righteous’ in God’s eyes as followers of Jesus, we must show proof of our faith extending into every part of our lives. We must live out our redeemed lives, giving of ourselves to our unseen Master by serving His precious ‘brothers’, the needy in our world.

We can’t excuse ourselves from reaching out to our needy neighbours, the hurting and hungry world of people around us. We can’t expect amnesty from responsibility stating that Jesus is ‘unseen’ in our generation. Jesus tells us to open our eyes. Loving Him and serving Him by loving and serving the needy go hand in hand. There’s no excuse for being short-sighted, is there?

(Photo Credit: By Nevit Dilmen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3894055)

 

REVELATION: Part 7

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Limits of Tolerance

We in the West are a culture of tolerance. We love to hold undefined tolerance in the highest regard as a value of the utmost good. At least, we Canadians do. Tolerance is the epitome of twenty-first century political correctness. Any display of the lack of it is definitely not tolerated. Even our Charter of Rights and Freedoms upholds it, doesn’t it?

Jesus has sent messages to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum in the book we call Revelation. We have seen how we can learn some truths from those messages. Now He adds Thyatira to His list of recipients, and He has a few thoughts on tolerance He wants to express. Listen to His opening words:

“These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” That’s a powerful self-description. Those blazing eyes are able to burn through superficial appearances, into the depths of our motives and core beliefs. Those solid feet are set as an immovable foundation of truth and authority. That is His brand.

“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” Jesus knows everything going on in everyone’s lives. You and I are not faceless, nameless beings in a sea of humanity. He knows and notices everything going on in our lives, above and below the surface. He recognizes our feeble attempts at faithfulness as of eternal value. That is His way.

“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.”

Jesus is not duped by deception. He is not fooled by flattery or misled by monikers. He is not bound by some mindless code of behavior that demands tolerance toward those whose schemes are at cross-purposes to His intents. In fact, He is distressed when people are willing to tolerate those who mislead others into godless behavior. This is no new twist on tolerance; we have it inbred in us. What child tolerates his toys being snatched away by another? What student tolerates a teacher who unjustly awards low marks? What parent tolerates a sexual offender abducting her child? What employee tolerates his contract being deliberately ignored or broken? We all have an inherent intolerance toward these injustices, because we understand they are abuses of power, dangers to lives, or work against the common good of society.

The menace of this self-proclaimed ‘prophetess’ Jezebel was in her influence over others. Her behaviors directly or indirectly taught others godless behaviors. Godless behaviors lead to godless mindsets, and godless mindsets to self-destructive lives. Jesus wanted the lives of His followers in Thyatira to be marked by sexual purity, spiritual health, and emotional joy; He wants as much for our lives too. Only He knows what is truly good for us. He engineered us; surely He knows what will bring us ultimate fulfillment.

“I am he who searches hearts and minds”, Jesus reminds us. There is no hiding from Him. That’s good news, knowing he will not misunderstand our motives – if they are good. But it’s bad news if we have been tolerating unsound beliefs, unwise teachings, or ungodly behaviours.

This news should be no stranger to us. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes limitations on certain rights. We don’t mention it often, but it’s there in black and white: the principles of fundamental justice prevail over individual rights. We are not to tolerate behaviors that obstruct fundamental justice. (See Part 1, Section 7: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/const/page-15.html#docCont). Tolerance has its boundaries.

So let’s be tolerant when it involves the good of others. But let’s not forget Jesus’ warning to stand up against the people and practices that obstruct principles of fundamental justice and human goodness. Jesus loves individuals, not propagandist hype. May we not use the concept of tolerance to disguise disrespect for the high and noble standards to which our Creator calls us.

(Photo Credit: Toby Hudson, Wikimedia Commons)