There are times when God seems absent. It seems that direction and blessing are gone. We have no sense that our prayers are being heard. We may be in a time of stress and trial, where there seems to be no relief in sight. Service that formerly brought us joy becomes dry and unrewarding. And we ask: Why?
At this point, the theological knowledge of God’s Omnipresence doesn’t help. This tells us that God is theoretically present. But, since the evidences of God’s favor seem missing from our life, this theoretical knowledge is no comfort. If God is present, why does God seem to be standing apart from us?
The Psalms often speak of these times. There is no denial here. The reality is that God’s most devoted followers sometimes go through dark times when God seems absent.
I have often reflected on this. It seems strange to me, but it is true: there have been seasons of blessing and seasons of darkness. I don’t know why. There have been times when I seemed to be living under a curse. Then, there have been times of blessing. And, it often doesn’t seem to make sense. I’ve never been able to connect these times of curse with moral faults either — something I notice Job’s companions tried to do for also him — and failed. Times of darkness happen unexpectedly, without warning or underlying reason. (more…)
Christian readers need to continually remind themselves: the Old Testament believers had no developed doctrine of the afterlife. Whereas, in much of Christianity the idea of the afterlife — of rewards and punishments in the world to come — dominates the thinking of believers. This has become such a commonplace idea in Christianity, we must consciously remind ourselves that it is missing (for the most part) from the thinking of the Old Testament writers.
It’s not just Christians who may be surprised — or even shocked — by the absence of this theme. There are some observers who have theorized that religion exists as a way of addressing the fear of death. If that were the case, it would be impossible to account for the Jewish religion in Old Testament times (or: the religion of the ancient Greeks at the time of Homer, either. Just read The Iliad sometime.).
Because the believers of Old Testament times had no developed doctrine of the afterlife, they tended to see the issues of right & wrong / rewards & punishments as playing themselves out in this life. You can see this clearly in the book of Proverbs, for example: do right and things will go well for you, do wrong and you will suffer. (more…)
Yet, it is also such a difficult issue. When there is a deep wound, the pain is still there, and the anger still arises. In times like this, we wonder: do the words mean anything? When time and time again, you have to pray “Lord, give me the grace to forgive my enemy” you have to wonder if there is ever hope for you. There have been many times, when I have wondered this about myself.
And, I know I’m not alone in having this problem. Those people who have done things that have caused wounds — especially those who have done it quite deliberately and knowingly — are hard to forgive. There are people I know who have been treated unfairly and unjustly. There are people I know who have been abused. And, the problem with forgiveness is that it seems to say that all that was okay. To let go of the anger and the outrage seems to give in to injustice — to give permission for their abuser to do it again to someone else. (more…)
I don’t know where such ideas come from — but a moment of thought will dispel them. The great Bible characters did not have lives that were devoid of difficulties or setbacks or griefs or disappointments. If this did not happen with them, how can I reasonably expect it for myself? Jesus grieved over Jerusalem. The apostle Paul knew setbacks and discouragements in his ministry. How can I suppose my life can be free from such things?
The path of the Lord is not easy, it is worthwhile. Those who choose to live as Christ has taught make a positive contribution to life — to their own life and to the lives of others. We move along a difficult path characterized by faith and love and hope. And, by doing so, we bring more faith and hope and love into the world. (more…)
How would we want other people to think of you? Wouldn’t you want them to think the best?
For some people it becomes an obsession: wondering what other people think of them. It is a source of anxiety and shame. Most of the time the truth of the matter is: they don’t spend much time thinking about us at all. And, how much does it matter anyway? Should it?
That can be a disturbing line of thought. Many people I know were raised in a hellfire and brimstone religion, where the angry judgement of God was a prominent theme. Human sinfulness & depravity was held up as the basic fact of human nature. We are sinners. And, God is holy. God is offended and angry over our sin. God must condemn us. It is only right.
And, this message, resonates with something deep inside us. We know we are not the people we should be. We are often ashamed of ourselves. And, God must know of flaws and errors that we don’t. We are quick to condemn ourselves. Why wouldn’t God condemn us?
In fact, it is hard for us to imagine that God would think more highly of us than we think of ourselves. Isn’t it?
That is why the message of God’s love is always so hard to believe. If we are sometimes tempted to worry about what other people think of us — how much more worrisome the thought of what God might think of us. (more…)
But, there are also times when I feel confident that I know the way — that I know the will of God — at least reasonably well.
Psalm 25:4,5 suggests that I really don’t know the way unless I seek to know it. It further suggests that the process of seeking God’s will may take me some time and effort.
Verses 4 and 5 show us the positive value of these times of waiting: it’s a time to seek God’s will and direction. (more…)
I’m still continuing my introduction to Psalm 25. I have commented here and here about the themes I see in Psalm 25, but I haven’t said a word so far about the structure of the Psalm. This hardly seems right. It is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. But, I wanted to give you an idea why I find this Psalm so interesting.
Well, the structure is interesting too. This is one of those alphabetic psalms. The first verse begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the next verse with the next letter, and so forth. (Other such psalms are 9, 10, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119 and 145.) The last verse is outside this structure. So, verses 1-21 are alphabetic in structure. Verse 22 is like a postscript comment. Commentators are quick to assert that verse 22 comes from a different author, though (of course) that need not be true.
It’s always good to know about this alphabetic structure. Then, we do not expect too much from the Psalm — the constraints of the alphabetic structure limit freedom of expression. Craigie writes (p. 217):
but, inevitably the acrostic pattern imposes certain limitations on the poet, and as a consequence there is not a clearly developed internal sequence of thought within the psalm. The verses alternate between prayers or petitions and expressions of the psalmist’s confidence in God.
But, there is one very interesting feature: verse 22 stands outside the alphabetic structure. (more…)
I said last time that Psalm 25 is a psalm for the Waiting Time. I haven’t always seen it that way. I first became aware of the prominence of this “waiting” theme in this psalm through Peter Craigie’s commentary. But, even without Craigie’s conjectural reading, the theme is of “waiting” is still found in the repeated use of the Hebrew term קָוָה (qāwāh, v. to hope in; to hope for, wait for, look for) in verses 3 and 21. I’ve indicated the appearance of the word by text color below:
גַּם כָּל־קוֶֹיךָ לֹא יֵבֹשׁוּ יֵבֹשׁוּ הַבּוֹגְדִים רֵיקָם
“Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.”
תֹּם־וָיֹשֶׁר יִצְּרוּנִי כִּי קִוִּיתִיךָ
“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.”
I think it’s worthwhile to take a moment to notice the close relationship between the concepts of “waiting” and “hoping.” (more…)
“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.” (Psalms 25:1-3 NRSV)
Here is what I mean.
Many times in the Hebrew scriptures we are exhorted to “wait on the LORD” — and we are told the advantages of such an approach to life. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalms 27:14 NRSV) “For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.” (Psalms 37:9 NRSV) “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope….” (Psalms 130:5 NRSV). (more…)