January 2008

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Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning,
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
My King and my God, for to you do I pray.
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
In the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
The Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

– Excerpt from Psalm 5

I don’t know exactly what to do with this psalm. As it starts I identify with it, as David prays for God to consider his words, he puts his trust in god, he prepares a sacrifice for God in the morning and watches. I love that last part — sacrificing to God each morning, waiting and watching for God to show up. I wonder what my sacrifices are, or ought to be. Is it a sacrifice of time, a sacrifice to memorize a bible verse or pray? I heard a story about someone who sits with God for an hour each morning — not reading the bible or getting things done — but listening to God’s heart for him, God’s love for him. Is that the sacrifice I ought to do, to be encompassed by God’s love each day, waiting long enough each morning for it to overwhelm me again?

I do not, however, know what to do with the next few stanzas. I know that growing up as a Christian I have heard the phrase, “Love the sinner; hate the sin” and wondered how I actually do that — to love someone for who they are yet hate what they do. My mind does not easily separate the two. And I don’t know what to do with the sentence: you hate all evildoers or the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. This, it seems to me, is not the “love the sinner and hate the sin” model. This is the model that says that what someone does is a mark of who that person is. If I murder someone, then I have dark, destructive parts of my heart; they are part of me. My evil comes out from me, it is not something that happens to me. This is the model of the Old Testament law I remember learning in college, that uncleanliness comes from different things you touch or do, but ultimately it comes from inside of you, as when a woman is bleeding. There are dark places within us that cannot be separated from who we are as people. The Lord abhors evil, and there are parts of us that he abhors.

Their inmost self is destruction. Are there people so irrevocably turned over to evil that there is nothing redeemable, everything to the core is destruction? And what is it for David to pray to God to make them bear their guilt, to cast them away? Most Christians I know would not be comfortable praying in such a way. I would not be comfortable, not because I didn’t think it but because I would not want to say it.

Perhaps that is one of the lessons of these psalms that beg for vengeance. Surely, there are more. But perhaps one is the uncomplicated honesty: David sees wickedness around him, he has experienced it, he has been pursued by men trying to kill him — and he wants vengeance. Would I be willing to ask God for vengeance? Doesn’t asking him imply trusting him, imply resting these feelings and hopes in his hands? Doesn’t it require absolute honesty before God, showing him my darkest parts even as he already knows them, instead of hiding those parts, pretending they are not there?

“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

– Philippians 2.12b-13

I don’t know what it means to fear God. I know that, archaically, fear simply means deep reverence. But, I don’t think this is all that Paul is talking about, since he adds the ominous word trembling to this command, linking the two together. Fear and trembling. This, at least it seems to me, implies much more than a deep reverence, it seems to imply unease or dread.

Perhaps we ought to be a bit more uneasy around our God. In today’s circles, God is often immanent: he is close and friendly and always smiling. I think of those figurines for the high-fiving Jesus, which are a joke, yet are true of our conceptions, oftentimes: God is a loyal friend just waiting to give you a pat on the back. This, of course, is true. God is intimately close, and his love for us is infinite.

He also, however, is transcendent. This transcendent God created the whole universe with his words, he led Israel out of Egypt as a pillar of fire, he drove sellers out of the temple with a whip. This God is not the pat-me-on-the-back God but a I’m-a-little-scared-of-you God; he is a God who is all powerful and, often, unpredictable. He is a God who shatters the image that we have of him so that we can form a bigger and truer image, and then he repeats the process. He is, as C.S. Lewis wrote “not safe. But he’s good.”

This is our God. And I bring up for discussion: how do we come to Him this week? How do we work out this salvation, while allowing Him to work in us? How has God broken that image that you have of him and enlarged it; how does an intimate and loving God both keep us close and grow us through hard circumstances — through times of fear and trembling?