Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Law, the Rock and the Redeemer (Psalm 19)

A lot of times we can miss possible meanings in scripture because we don’t live when and where its writers did. Psalm 19 is an example.

We begin with the psalmist saying that people can just look at the world around them and see evidence of God. Creation itself implies its creator, and everything about the world testifies to the reality of God. Even the sun itself is under God’s direction; the very sky it moves through was created by God to house its journey. And when the sun moves across the sky, nothing is hidden from its heat.

Where we live, we might connect the sun’s heat with the warmth that invigorates us and eases the morning chill. Sure, sometimes it’s very hot, but much of the time we welcome the sun’s heat.

But we didn’t write the psalm – people who lived in a desert did. People who were the descendants of generations of wilderness nomads. The heat of the sun had an entirely different significance for them. It wasn’t something that warmed the day, it was an enemy that you dealt with carefully or it could kill you.

Our psalmist seems to be saying that while we can have knowledge of God from the creation God made, that knowledge is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, knowing about the creator only reminds us how we don’t offer that creator the proper thanks, respect and gratitude. Heck, not only do we fail at it, we don’t even really know how we could succeed. Because everything we see reminds us of the creator, everything we see reminds us how far short we fall! What a yucky revelation.

But the law of the Lord, on the other hand, is sweet and refreshing. Now that’s a little weird, we think, partly because our understanding of “the law” has been colored by what had happened to it in Jesus’ time. All of the additional regulations and definitions meant it could be a real burden.

In its original form, though, it was the sign of God’s relationship with Israel. God chose them as his people, and then he gave them the law as a way to live that out and as a symbol that they were in fact his people. God paid attention to them; they mattered to him. They mattered enough that he showed them how they should respond to him.

Instead of wandering around the wilderness in the blazing sun, they were refreshed and nourished. Instead of ignorance of how to properly respond to the Creator, they had the guidance of the Creator’s teaching and evidence of his relationship with them.

And look at the confidence it inspires in the psalmist – by verse 12 he feels as though he can even trust God to cleanse him of the faults he has that he doesn’t even know about! No longer does he worry about an inadequate response to his Creator, or that he will have some imperfection that will expose him to the Creator’s wrath. Now he freely admits he’s so messed up that he doesn’t even know how messed up he is, and he invites God to explore him and work on that stuff as well.

I think we can imagine just what kind of trust level we might have in someone if we ask them for help in fixing not only the faults we know we have, but also whatever else they might find while they happen to be there. It’d have to be immense, wouldn’t it?

We Christians may not see the Law in the same light, because it’s a special signal of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. But of course we do see Christ work in a similar role in mediating between us and God, offering us proof that God not only made us but also loves us. We can and should be in awe of his great power and show proper respect. But we can also trust in his love.

The God of this psalm is our God, our rock and our redeemer.

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