OPENING THE DOOR TO PSALM 119, Part 4

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‘Beth’.

“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)

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THE D.C., GOD, AND YOU, Part 2

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Rebellion Against Pride

Kim Jong-un was elected into power by unanimous vote with a 100% turnout rate last week. It has the ring of a fairy-tale come true. North Korea must be very proud to have the peaceful, unified, single-minded support of its people behind its leader. Or is it all as rosy as it seems?

The Korean Central News Agency insists the vote reflects the people’s “absolute support and profound trust in supreme leader Kim Jong-un”. And yet, internment camps, North Korea’s Gulags, are filled with those who dare to dissent; few ever escape or find release from these camps outside of death.

The dominant culture (D.C.) inside the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ is one where complete veneration of its young dictator is the standard expectation. The sense of pride and power emanating from the tyrant is reminiscent of the sixth century B.C. Assyrian siege of Jerusalem. It may also remind us of the pride flaunted by some elements of the Western world’s D.C.

“On what are you basing this confidence of yours?” challenges the ‘great king’ of Assyria in a message to the people of God. ‘Might is right’ the D.C. parades. ‘Power makes morality defunct’ it flaunts. Liberalism and pride replace all other values, decrying, “On whom are you depending that you rebel against me?”

We are surrounded by segments of a similar D.C. in our society. We are fed the palatable lie that we each are gods; flaunting our rights regardless of how destructive to self and others it may be, is the new law of the land. Confidence in God’s standards is not only passé, it offends the new gods-oriented society. The D.C. demands we respond with peaceful, unified, single-minded support. Dissenters beware! they boast.

Have you ever wondered how to respond to such pressure? Have a look back at the book of II Kings.  What did King Hezekiah, leader of the tiny remnant of God’s people, do? How did he respond to a similar confrontation with the D.C. of his time?

”When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD”.  Sounds like a meltdown? Not so. In those days, to express an awareness of need before God was to tear one’s clothes and dress in rags. It demonstrated authentic humility. It communicated awareness that superficial trappings of power, symbolized by fine clothing, are paltry compared to God’s sovereignty. Tearing the clothing denoted non-reliance on one’s own might. It said, “I am powerless before this threat. God, help the one who humbles himself before You!”

It’s a response worth noting, don’t you think? It’s worth thinking about these two opposing traits: pride and humility. The one thinks only of self, of its pleasures, and of methods of manipulating events to its liking. The other bows before its Maker; it submits to the values and instructions for living, trusting the Almighty One will bring ultimate good out of the situation for those who submit to Him.

We are faced daily with choices that draw us one direction or another. The D.C. pulls us toward pride. God calls us to humility. As we stand in line at a check-out stand, as we choose how to use the day’s leisure time, as we communicate with those around us, we choose pride or humility.

The more difficult choice will always be humility. Like Hezekiah, we will need to be deliberate in our response. We will have to come into God’s presence (we call that ‘prayer’) and be authentic in our humility. It can happen anywhere: in that check-out line, in the moment before choosing to be served or to serve, in the breath before speaking with those around us. They seem like simple acts but they confront the spirit of the age that says ‘pride and power are yours’. Will you fall prey to pride or will you defy it?  God calls us to rise up and rebel against it. Dissenters arise.