Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Songs (psalms) for a Good Life (Psalm 112)

I have included Psalm 112 among the 6 Blessed psalms, or, collection of psalms that begin with “blessed.”1 I am calling this series, “Songs (psalms) for a Good Life”, and I am attempting to distill a distinctive teaching from each of these songs.2 

I find Psalm 112 to be a psalm that describes how the blessed person is stretched. Living on earth, halfway between heaven and hell, we live in tension. We are partakers of glory, and yet we deal daily with shame. We are, according to Luther, “Simul Justus et Peccator,” “at the same time just(ified) and a sinner.” 

Notice with me some of these “stretches.” In verse 1, he is a person who both “fears” and “delights.” You have probably heard discussions that attempt to rub the hard edges off these words. But at face value they do not sit comfortably close together. Verse 2 may hold in tension those yet to be born with those whose years linger on - the tension between the young and the old. Do you think no such tension exists? Ask grandpa to listen in on little Johnny’s jam session. It exists. In verse 4, he is the light in the midst of darkness, no simple task, as we learned from Lot. In verse 9, we find that the person who bends low to help the poor is the one who is lifted up in honor, a very common Biblical theme. Finally, in the biggest stretch of all, verse 10 contrasts the plight of the wicked, who will perish, in contrast to the enduring righteousness of the blessed person, which leads to our next theme - but first an application.

If the blessed life is marked by tension, then why do we complain about tension? If the road to blessedness involves being stretched, then why do we think it strange to be stretched? He whom the Lord loves, He disciplines - He stretches with a view to greater usefulness and fruitfulness and blessedness.

Enduring righteousness is mentioned three times, in verses 3b, 6b, and 9b. The long distance runner trains over long distances. How could it be any different? Can a person train for a 5 mile race by running a block? She can get real good at running the block. But she will not be ready for the 5 miler.There is a time component in blessed discipleship. The question is not so much, “how was your day?”, but “how was your year?” “the last 5 years?”

It seems to me that the heart of this psalm can be found in the little chiasmus that occurs in verses 7-8, following a (little bit messy) ABBA structure. The two center phrases are the key to living in tension: steadfast is his heart (Hebrew word order); upheld is his heart. He has learned through the high’s and low’s of life to replace fear with trust. Neither bad news or bad people (the outer phrases) will shake his confidence. The stretching has made him strong; the tensions have made her tough.

Finally, let me ask you a question, and see if your observation matches with mine: Where is God in this psalm? Oh, He is there, but not in the front row. He is the God who is feared (verse 1), and the God in whom we trust (verse7), and, well, that’s about it. What should we make of this?

In this journey of the someday blessed, we walk by faith and not by sight. We believe that God is there. We know that He is there. But we often cannot see Him, hear Him, feel Him, or anything else, other than believe. We walk the wire, not seeing the net, but knowing He’s there. We face the enemy, quite unsure about our abilities, but banking hard on His.  “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy” (1 Peter 1:8 NLT). It makes you want to shout, “Praise the LORD.” Maybe that’s why they added it to the beginning of this song.

1Psalm 11-113 begin with the phrase, “Praise the LORD!” It seems to me that this serves almost as a title that identifies a mini-collection, similar to the “psalms of ascent” (Pss 120-134). In both cases, the opening words, or heading, are part of the Hebrew text.

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