Life is shifting in big ways for me this summer. This morning, I sit surrounded by boxes, house all packed except for a few things here and there. Movers come tomorrow to take all my things to the home that will become OURS, and the wedding is just over 3 weeks away. Although I never wanted to be a bride that is consumed with wedding details, alas.. that has happened. The next three weeks all my spare time will be spent finalizing plans and making signs for social distancing and mask wearing at our gathering 🙂 But yes its exciting!!!
Needless to say, the whole reality that I am picking up and moving to a new town to start all over again comes in waves. I have made some good friends up where Trung lives, but there still isn’t history beyond a weekend here and there for the past two years. So, this morning I read Psalm 139 again. It had been a while, and I needed to be reminded of the truth of being known. So of course the text today was encouraging, reminding me that as I navigate a huge life change and move into a new community, I am still known by Him.. and that is enough.
Interestingly enough, what struck me the most this morning was NOT the first part of the text. It was the part that I usually skip over.
The psalmist goes from this poetic sense of how much the Lord knows him, and how precious Gods thoughts are to him, and then he launches into “If only you would slay the wicked!… do I not hate those who hate you, Lord?… I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies! (v19-22)
Then the closing passage, one we quote often: “Search me God and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (v 23-24)
I used to skip over verses 19-22 thinking oh, that isn’t how we are to think about people now, since Jesus tells us to love everyone – even our enemies – so I can just ignore that part.
Today I read this differently. Today it dawns on me again just how radical it must have sounded for Jesus to say “you’ve heard it said… but I say Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you”…
But here’s the kicker: The psalmist didn’t even realize that his poetic calling out of how God knows him, knows his thoughts and everything about him — and the closing “and if there is still anything offensive in me still — fix that too” – is like this wonderful, beautiful poem that is sandwiched around a very big piece of ugliness. He couldn’t even see it.
Now, I’m drawing a very wide brushstroke in saying this, but you have to realize that there was a bit of nationalism and pride in being an Israelite back in the day. They had the One True God. They had a way of living, according to Torah, that would invite God’s favor if they walked in his way. They knew that some of the ways the nations around them lived was actually abhorrent to the Lord (think child sacrifice, worshipping other gods or created things instead of God, rampant sexual practices like orgies and temple prostitutes, horrendous war tactics…. etc ). They were told to hate what is evil and love what is good, and so there was this natural tendency to stand a bit taller and hate what their God hates… which they translated into hating the people.
I’m not sure that’s always what God had in mind, yet its easy to read the text and think that God approved of everything that they thought.
Hm. You know, this was not intended to be a political post but you know… the social commentary on that thought.. um… I’m just going to let that sit for a bit.
Hence verse 24.
This verse points out two things that are obvious to me, that we as followers of Jesus must wrestle with:
1. We may really love God with everything in us, and we can ask him to reveal offensive ways, but we may not even recognize them because they are so deeply ingrained in us. We need to be willing to face them no matter how hard they might be to own up to. These could be thoughts or attitudes towards certain ethnicities, countries, people groups… or it could be how we feel about certain generations, family members…. spouses… neighbors…leaders.. the list could go on and on. I think you get where I’m going here
2. We have to be careful to separate hatred of evil from hatred of the people AND/OR systems who cause it. I know, this seems nearly impossible – but if we do not try to separate the two, we will never be able to see the people for the potential for which they were created. We will be tempted or lulled into thinking they will always be that way, they can never get out of their evil patterns.
Isn’t that the point of redemption? Isn’t that why Jesus came, to vanquish sin forever` (Romans 5) so that we COULD be given a new heart in place of our heart of stone (Ezek 36:26). Isn’t that the point of the work of the Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to choose what is good in the first place?
Keep in mind that this isn’t just at a personal level. It applies to larger systems in towns and cities, in states and our nation as well. The redemption Jesus brought was not just to change us and our hearts, but to redeem all of creation and the systems of the world. So if we fail to separate people from their actions, we will never be able to call out laws and systems as things that may very well have evil origins.
I know this is hard work folks. To see the state of our nation today and lament that things are not the way they should be… but God is not done. His purposes to create one humanity, one kingdom, redeemed and reflecting his full mercy and grace? That is still happening.
We must be willing to let the psalmists cry be our own, letting the light of the holy spirit illuminate that things we cannot see. Only then can they be brought to the cross, traded for new eyes that can help us push through the ugliness we rightly call evil, yet do it with grace and forgiveness that remind other image bearers there is a better way to live.
As we do this, kingdoms of this world and its evil systems are torn down.
I know, its not happening fast enough. I think those that have gone before us would echo the same sentiment. But don’t give up. What you do, how you live makes a difference. Figure out how to do that in your corner of the kingdom, and keep your heart close to the One that will lead you
My book recommendation today:
The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can be Made Right by Lisa Sharon Harper