One of the remarkable things about the Bible is it’s willingness to expose the weaknesses, errors, and sins of its major characters. One of the especially endearing features of the Old Testament is its openness about its heroes flaws — and of the flaws and failures of the nation as a whole. This is a poor piece of propaganda for the nation — we see its sins and its errors and its flaws. It is not propaganda. It is not an apology for the nation at all. It is not a glorification of its heroes. We see them as deeply flawed. It is a glorification of God’s character and grace.
לֹא לָנוּ יְהוָה לֹא לָנוּ כִּי־לְשִׁמְךָ תֵּן כָּבוֹד עַל־חַסְדְּךָ עַל־אֲמִתֶּךָ
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” (NRSV)
Adam Clarke paraphrases the first part of this verse this way:
We take no merit to ourselves; as thine is the kingdom, and the power in that kingdom, so is thy glory.
In the Old Testament, even the official religion and ritual of the people comes under heavy criticism:
“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation — I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:10-17 NRSV) (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…)
יִשְׁלַח מִשָּׁמַיִם וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנִי חֵרֵף שֹׁאֲפִי סֶלָה יִשְׁלַח אֱלֹהִים חַסְדּוֹ וַאֲמִתּוֹ
“He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me [Selah] God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” (NRSV)
• steadfast love חֶסֶד
• faithfulness אֱמֶת
And, what can be said? There is a great depth of meaning here. These words are deep and beautiful because of the meaning they gain through their frequent use in the Scriptures. The nature of God’s deliverance may not be known in detail. It never is. But, we know how God acts. We know something of God’s character. “God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” That’s all we need to know. (more…)
In spite of the fact that it comes out of a deep sense of the failure of the nation, Psalm 106 opens (literally!) with a “Hallelujah!”:
הַלְלוּיָהּ הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
“Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His loving-kindness is everlasting.” (Psalms 106:1 NASB).
I don’t think this is an attempt to command an emotion. This is not the same as: “Don’t worry, be happy.” I think I am being told to turn my mind toward the God who alone is worthy of praise.
Emotion cannot be commanded. But, emotion arises when I turn my mind toward something that awakens that feeling. To feel an emotion, I must find the object that arouses it.
Sin, guilt and failure cannot be allowed to be the last word. It leaves me in despair. (more…)