O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south….
Some were sick through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress;
he sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. (NRSV)
I’ve always found it a bit curious that there are people who continually equate the God of the Old Testament as nothing but a vengeful and wrathful God, continually perturbed and upset, exasperated with us stupid little sinful people. Certainly, there are sections in Scripture dealing with God’s wrath and the divine action spurred from not being okay with injustice running amok on the earth.
Everything God does comes from a place of love.
The Lord has never been okay with sin because it damages and destroys people who are meant for better things. Which is why, when people are in need and cry out to the Lord, God is there for them.
Far more prevalent is the reality that the Old Testament is thickly populated with references to God’s “steadfast love.” This is God’s covenant-keeping love. It is the kind of love that holds on and doesn’t let go. It’s the type of love that is tirelessly gracious, merciful, and kind. It is the love that has compassion on the needy and mercifully does something about their plight.
In today’s psalm, even when there were people sick and in distress because of their own doing, their own sin, and their own fault, God saved them from their mess. That, my friend, is precisely what God does – expertly delivers people with care and precision.
So then, we truly need to get some robust theology to overwhelm and break those old nasty ideas about a fickle God who shakes his finger at us when we screw up and gives a big disappointed *sigh* over our dumb decisions. Just as the psalms steadily and persistently portray to us a God of abiding love, they also equally tell us of a God who is “slow to anger,” not going off the handle quickly. (Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8)
Know deep in your soul that God shows steadfast love.
God doesn’t tell us “I told you so” or “that’s what you get for sinning,” like some obnoxious and overzealous schoolgirl. Nope. God delivers and does it because of steadfast love. It flat out gives God pleasure to save and redeem wayward folk.
That’s why I believe people all over the world have learned to sing the praises of the God of the Bible. It’s why persons from every walk of life and every culture have found God as the great lover of humanity. Their overflowing response to such a loving God is singing, praising, thanking, and offering their lives to the great Lover of their souls.
If you or someone you know struggles with seeing God as capricious, indifferent, or angry, then I strongly urge a steady and daily diet of the psalms over the course of the next month. Call it an intervention of psalms. Reading just five psalms per day gets you through all one-hundred fifty of them in a month. More than that, pray the psalms. Allow them to give you a new perspective on the world, relationships, and self.
“God’s love is like when you sit in front of a fire in winter — you are just there in front of the fire. You don’t have to be smart or anything. The fire warms you.”Desmond Tutu
This prolific reading of the psalms is not some new or weird thing. It has been around for an awfully long time. The daily recitation of the entire Book of Psalms was an early monastic custom, especially among the Desert Fathers of the 3rd and 4th centuries. By the time Saint Benedict came along with his Rule for monks (c.515 C.E.) many communities had settled on the weekly praying of the entire Psalter. As good old Benedict said, praying less than a full psalter a week betrays “extreme indolence and lack of devotion.”
That might seem over the top to modern readers, yet the big idea is that once the steadfast love of God from the psalms gets into your spiritual bloodstream, the praying and singing of the psalms becomes a delight. I can testify to that. Seems I cannot ever get enough of the psalms. Which really means I love the steadfast love of God!
The Psalms are, I believe, the fulcrum of the Holy Scriptures. They recite and reflect upon the historical acts of God in the Old Testament. They tell of the Lord’s continuing covenantal care for people. The Psalms express the full gamut of human emotion and spiritual devotion of the people of God. Reciting the Psalms aloud frequently puts us in good company with our spiritual ancestors in the faith.
So, what the heck are you waiting for? Go ahead. Read and recite today’s psalm over again and again. Let them do their gracious work in your spirit.
God of all that is good, your steadfast love has been shown to millions who find in you the desire of their hearts. May I see your overflowing goodness, your steadfast love, and your infinite mercy operating in this broken world and in my needy heart; through your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever. Amen.