Psalm 53 – Is God Gone?

Bilious and bloated, they gas,
   “God is gone.”
It’s poison gas—
    they foul themselves, they poison
Rivers and skies;
    thistles are their cash crop.
God sticks his head out of heaven.
    He looks around.
He’s looking for someone not stupid—
    one man, even, God-expectant,
    just one God-ready woman.

He comes up empty. A string
    of zeros. Useless, un-shepherded
Sheep, taking turns pretending
    to be Shepherd.
The ninety and nine
    follow the one.

Don’t they know anything,
    all these predators?
Don’t they know
    they can’t get away with this,
Treating people like a fast-food meal
    over which they’re too busy to pray?

Night is coming for them, and nightmare—
    a nightmare they’ll never wake up from.
God will make hash of these squatters,
    send them packing for good.

Is there anyone around to save Israel?
    God turns life around.
Turned-around Jacob skips rope,
    turned-around Israel sings laughter.
(The Message)

In 1888, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche published his book, “The Antichrist.” Nietzsche used the phrase, “God is dead,” to express his idea that the Enlightenment, with its thorough rejection of all things subjective and intuitive, and the embrace of everything objective and observable, had eliminated the possibility of the existence of God.

Nietzsche simply named what a modern progressive society had become: drained of divine mystery. He wrote:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Friedrich Nietzsche

This was the nineteenth century equivalent of making the psalmist’s observation that there is a philosophy extant which states, “There is no God.” He’s gone. And humanity has replaced him with themselves.

Unlike Nietzsche, however, the psalmist takes the perspective not of the human but of God. The Lord looks about for someone wise, someone who truly takes notice to see with spiritual eyes, hear with spiritual ears, discern a spiritual touch, smell the aroma of God, and taste that the Lord is good – rather than relying solely on the five senses.

So, where is God? In the grave? No, he is risen, just as he said.

Just because there seems to be an absence of good in the world, doesn’t mean it isn’t there – or that God is gone.

Any fool can make bold proclamations when they are an epistemology all to themselves.

From God’s perspective, anyone can use their five physical senses. To only use them, and completely ignore other ways of knowing, is, well, plain stupid.

Where is God? Not hanging out with fools, drinking cheap dandelion wine and smoking nasty inexpensive cigars. Rather, the Lord is in the company of the righteous with wise persons who discern God’s presence.

Things are not always what they seem. Violence and oppression in the world are not signaling God is on vacation, doesn’t care, or simply doesn’t exist, at all. We must see beyond or through the world’s crud to a Divine Being who is there, reachable, and very much, cares about the state of humanity.

All our posturing and preening to appear we have it all together is nothing more than a poorly produced television reality show to God. So, if the Lord chooses to change the channel, it doesn’t translate that he isn’t viewing the screen. Only a fool believes no one is watching.

If we ignore God, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised or upset when divine Skittles don’t come raining down from heaven for us to enjoy.

Instead, we are to attend to the spiritual life. There are divine resources available if we will use them. Though they are abundant and free, we still have to ask and receive them with the humility which comes from realizing we aren’t the center of the universe.

Nietzsche is not exactly a person that many Christians would typically acknowledge, let alone refer to, and, for good reason. And yet, he understood that when God is removed from societal norms, it leaves us with a nihilist worldview (the belief that nothing has any inherent importance, and that life lacks purpose).

Christianity and/or a focus on the spiritual life can be, and is, I believe, an antidote to the despair of meaninglessness. If God is truly the ground of moral reality and gives real shape to human purpose, then we have a way to center ourselves. Yet, if God is ignored to the point of being “dead” then there is nothing substantial for humanity to orient their lives around.

Try as we might to create, as Nietzsche did, an Übermensch (superman) in the form of the radically independent and strong person to fill the enormous spiritual void of God’s death, it is merely a façade covering our weakness and foolishness as creatures.

I suggest we consider the psalmist as a reliable source of knowledge – that God is a force for justice and for good in the world – and that we explore what this means for us in our respective lives, families, communities, as well as in our public discourse and personal philosophy.

Is God gone? Not really. We humans just tend to give him the stiff arm.

Almighty God, you called your church to be one, holy, universal and missional people. By your grace you have given us new life in Jesus Christ, and by your Spirit you have called us to proclaim his name throughout the nations. Awaken in us such a love for you and your world that we may boldly proclaim Jesus Christ by word and deed. May all people everywhere come to know you and Christ’s power to save. Amen.

1 Samuel 8:1-22 – Be Careful What You Ask For: You Might Get It

Now when Samuel got old, he appointed his sons to serve as Israel’s judges. The name of his oldest son was Joel; the name of the second was Abijah. They served as judges in Beersheba. But Samuel’s sons didn’t follow in his footsteps. They tried to turn a profit, they accepted bribes, and they perverted justice.

So, all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So, appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” It seemed awfully bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the Lord.

The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods. So, comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”

Then Samuel explained everything the Lord had said to the people who were asking for a king. “This is how the king will rule over you,” Samuel said:

“He will take your sons and will use them for his chariots and his cavalry and as runners for his chariot. He will use them as his commanders of troops of one thousand and troops of fifty, or to do his plowing and his harvesting, or to make his weapons or parts for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, or bakers. He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants. He will give one-tenth of your grain and your vineyards to his officials and servants. He will take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle and donkeys, and make them do his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and then you yourselves will become his slaves! When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you chose for yourselves, but on that day the Lord won’t answer you.”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel and said, “No! There must be a king over us so we can be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”

Samuel listened to everything the people said and repeated it directly to the Lord. Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Comply with their request. Give them a king.”

Samuel then told the Israelite people, “Go back, each of you, to your own hometown.” (Common English Bible)

“No one but a fool would measure their satisfaction by what the world thinks of it.”

Oliver Goldsmith

In the days of the prophet Samuel, the people asked for a king. They had never had one before. Samuel, and others before him, served as Judges, leading the people in special times and acting as intercessors between the people and God. 

Samuel was quite displeased that the people asked for a king. Ever the wise and discerning leader, Samuel understood there were two realities behind such a request:

  1. Israel wanted to be just like all the other nations in having a king.
  2. Israel was rejecting God as their rightful king.

The ancient Israelites wanted from an earthly king what God was really supposed to do for them. Whereas an earthly mortal king can only rule partially and temporarily, the eternal sovereign God reigns supreme over everyone and everything. 

It is impossible for an earthly king to provide the totality of everyone’s needs within a geographical realm. Yet, even in this present day and age, all kinds of people still look to earthly politicians, pundits, presidents, prognosticators, pastors, and/or people in charge to meet their every need. That’s likely why so many people get upset and have strong visceral reactions to politics and the church – far too many of them expect a human authority figure to do for them what God is supposed to do. 

No other human being can fight your battles for you. No other person can do your relational and spiritual work for you. We must all take charge of our own lives and be responsible to develop and cultivate spiritual and relational practices which connect us with the God who is in charge of the universe. 

We can then ask God for what we need and want according to divine purposes, and not ask for what everyone else has that we don’t. God ended up giving Israel a king, even when it was not the best of ideas on their part. 

Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

All-wise God, I look to you for the discernment to even know what I ought to be asking for in prayer. Guide me into truth and grace so that in everything I will make wise decisions that reflect your sovereignty over the church and the world. In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

**Above art comes from the Morgan Picture Bible, c.1250. The aging Samuel is approached by four elders representing the people of Israel who ask him to anoint a King so that Israel will be powerful like other nations. Samuel warns them of the dangers a king would pose to the liberties of the Israelite people.

Proverbs 9:1-6 – Lady Wisdom’s Invitation

Divine Wisdom by Shiloh Sophia McCloud

Wisdom has built her house
    with its seven columns.
She has prepared the meat
and set out the wine.
    Her feast is ready.

She has sent her servant women
    to announce her invitation
    from the highest hills:
“Everyone who is ignorant
    or foolish is invited!
    All of you are welcome
    to my meat and wine.
If you want to live,
    give up your foolishness
    and let understanding
    guide your steps.” (CEV)

Wisdom is personified as a wise woman calling out to us. Her message is a passionate appeal to take the path of insight through God’s revealed will. She encourages us to leave our simple ways and walk in the way of insight. 

The word “wisdom” in Scripture is the careful application of God’s Word to concrete situations in our lives. During our daily life, paying attention to wisdom and following her instructions is vital to experiencing success in the Christian walk, and in all of life.

Obstructing the ability to listen for wisdom’s call is the fact that too many people are downright impatient. The deliberate ways of wisdom take far too much time for them. They want the bottom-line, the skinny on wisdom. However, to let wisdom teach us her ways, we need to slow down enough to hear, accept, and engraft wise practices of living. Working and living harder and faster when we encounter difficulties only betrays our great need for Lady Wisdom’s instruction.

It is the immature simpleton who refuses to wait on the lessons that wisdom wants to impart. Wisdom cannot be gained quickly. Her teachings are learned slowly with careful application over time. Wisdom is something of a marinade, and if we don’t allow the proper time, we are unable to live well. We will then, at best, be bland and dull, and at worst, be an unsavory presence in the world.

Another foolish obstacle to receiving wisdom is the search for simple solutions to complex problems. Wisdom calls us to leave such ineffective and short-sighted ways and take the high road of consultation, collaboration, and humble learning.

Rather than always rush to Google for answers to our questions; instead of allowing another person to make decisions for us; in place of implementing sheer pragmatic plans, please allow wisdom to penetrate the mind and heart so that what comes out is thoroughly godly and biblical. 

Where is the place to start? Reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight. There is no substitute to committing oneself to the regular and daily regimen of reading God’s Holy Word and seeking to put it into practice.

All-Wise God, the One who is never in a hurry, create in me a wise mind and heart.  Help me to sit still long enough for wisdom to bring biblical and spiritual maturity to my life, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:5-12 – Choose Wisely

fork in the road
“The choice to make good choices is the best choice you can choose. Fail to make that choice and on most choices you will lose.” ― Ryan Lilly

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with the first fruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. (NIV)

The book of Proverbs is a collection of short pithy statements based in experiential truth. In other words, they are wisdom sayings. Wisdom is a gradual accumulation of understanding over time with a combination of observation and practice. The Teacher highlights the wisdom needed to navigate life. It is a bit like learning the basic laws of the universe such as: Respect the force of gravity by not walking off the roof of your house. Wisdom pays attention and applies understanding to reality. Otherwise, you will find you have a broken life.

Notice the realities we need to respect from today’s verses: God, God’s guidance, God’s honor, God’s discipline. The wise response to the existence of these realities is trust, submission, reverence, and acceptance. In contrast, a foolish response to reality is pride, avarice, and hate.

Both wisdom and foolishness are seen for what they are through their consequences.

The wise person, having been taught a respect for God and the ways of grace, will most likely have an experience of guidance, health, abundance, and love. The fool who ignores divine counsel will probably experience misplaced trust, health issues, short-sighted financial decisions, and cruddy attitudes. All things being equal, the wise person who deliberately and carefully applies knowledge and understanding to life will have an abundant spirit full of satisfaction – whereas the fool who improvises everything will struggle to live in a small world of holistic poverty and want.

“You can’t choose your potential, but you can choose to fulfill it.” – Theodore Roosevelt  

The gist of the Old Testament lesson for today is that one cannot live as an island. We all need to practice consultation and collaboration to achieve a good life. Being both instructed and corrected are necessary elements to obtaining the good life. To spurn both divine and human connections in favor of radical personal independence is plain old foolish and leads to a lousy life. In short, the fool incessantly airs opinions with useless sophistry to an empty room; and, the sage is an observant student to universal rhythms and has learned the timing of proper words and of silence.

I am going to state this all in a different way:

Relying on God and others through making and keeping promises to one another is the basis of a solid community and a gratifying personal life.

Relying merely on one’s self is a one-way road to spiritual pain and emotional damage, not to mention physical illness and financial scarcity. Fools always think they know best. Sages always know better than that.

The book of Proverbs is a presentation, a dialectic, a contrast and a setting forth of two ways of approaching how to live in the world: foolishness or wisdom; independence or interdependence; cognitive pride or mental humility; negligence of evidence-based research or consultation through books, literature, and reading; exploitation of resources or submission to the natural laws and rhythms of the land; holding-on with clenched fist or generosity with open hand; Grinch-like attitudes or God-like dispositions; incessant criticism or heartfelt tribute; blame-shifts or recognition of other’s contributions; shame or vulnerability; resistance to correction or acceptance of discipline; hate or love; judgment or grace – there is a fork in the road and we must choose which way to go.

Choose wisely, my friend.

Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace; and, in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.