Psalm 145 – Some Solid Robust Theology

Psalm 145:14 by Jen Norton

I will praise you,
my God and King,
    and always honor your name.
I will praise you each day
    and always honor your name.
You are wonderful, Lord,
    and you deserve all praise,
because you are much greater
    than anyone can understand.

Each generation will announce
to the next
    your wonderful
    and powerful deeds.
I will keep thinking about
your marvelous glory
    and your mighty miracles.
Everyone will talk about
    your fearsome deeds,
    and I will tell all nations
    how great you are.
They will celebrate and sing
    about your matchless mercy
    and your power to save.

You are merciful, Lord!
    You are kind and patient
    and always loving.
You are good to everyone,
    and you take care
    of all your creation.

All creation will thank you,
    and your loyal people
    will praise you.
They will tell about
    your marvelous kingdom
    and your power.
Then everyone will know about
    the mighty things you do
    and your glorious kingdom.
Your kingdom will never end,
    and you will rule forever.

Our Lord, you keep your word
    and do everything you say.
When someone stumbles or falls,
    you give a helping hand.
Everyone depends on you,
and when the time is right,
    you provide them with food.
By your own hand
    you satisfy
    the desires of all who live.

Our Lord, everything you do
    is kind and thoughtful,
    and you are near to everyone
    whose prayers are sincere.
You satisfy the desires
    of all your worshipers,
    and you come to save them
    when they ask for help.
You take care of everyone
who loves you,
    but you destroy the wicked.

I will praise you, Lord,
    and everyone will respect
    your holy name forever. (Contemporary English Version)

These days, everywhere I go there is high anxiety, even downright fear. In my city, the highest murder rate in its history marked the past year. In the hospital for which I am the chaplain, the coronavirus with all its deathly strains is bringing grief and bereavement to many families. Within many churches, their future viability is in question, and parishioners wonder about the future.

When there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, with apprehension and stress as the very air we breathe, there is an angle to the whole situation the psalmist wants us to consider. We are to give weight and consideration to some solid robust theology.

Everyone has a theology. All persons have some sort of understanding of a god, G-d, or no god at all. In the hard circumstances of life, it might seem as if our theology isn’t serving us well. We may feel as if G-d is aloof, distant, or just plain disinterested. So, let’s pay attention to the psalmist. Notice his theology….

The Lord saves… is merciful… powerful… kind… patient… loving… and good. G-d keeps divine promises… helps… gives… provides… protects… and is near to those who humbly seek the divine. In short, the Lord cares for all creation and all creatures, including you and me, and tackles injustice like a hefty linebacker on a string-bean running back.

Yes, G-d deserves all praise, glory, and honor because standing behind all the anxiety of the age is a very large deity who acts with good purpose.

Let this psalm (and the entire psalter) buoy you up with good solid theology because the Lord is righteous in all dealings and is present to all who call for help. G-d hears. G-d responds. Perhaps neither according to our idea of timeliness nor to our expectation. Yet, deliverance is at hand, even if it comes in a form different than we were anticipating.

I am taking time to read today’s psalm several times over, to let it awash my soul with significant doses of truth and mercy. There are simply times when all of us need to remember and be reminded that there is a G-d in heaven who is willing and able, as well as a friend close at hand. 

True human satisfaction does not come through personal ingenuity or accumulation of more knowledge or more stuff.  Rather, our deepest desires and needs are fulfilled in the G-d who cares.

Anxiety, stress, fear, and apprehension don’t simply melt away. We, like the psalmist, need to practice the active verbs within the text: I will praise you… I will always honor your name… I will keep thinking about your marvelous glory and miracles… I will tell all nations how great you are… because the Lord saves and satisfies.

May that be your experience today, and every day.

Mighty G-d, you are both far and near, totally above us, yet close at hand.  Preserve me with your mighty power so that I might not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity. But in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 90 – Of God and Humanity

Lord, you have been our help,
    generation after generation.
Before the mountains were born,
    before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world—
    from forever in the past
    to forever in the future, you are God.

You return people to dust,
    saying, “Go back, humans,”
    because in your perspective a thousand years
    are like yesterday past,
    like a short period during the night watch.
You sweep humans away like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning.
True, in the morning it thrives, renewed,
    but come evening it withers, all dried up.
Yes, we are wasting away because of your wrath;
    we are paralyzed with fear on account of your rage.
You put our sins right in front of you,
    set our hidden faults in the light from your face.
Yes, all our days slip away because of your fury;
    we finish up our years with a whimper.
We live at best to be seventy years old,
    maybe eighty, if we’re strong.
But their duration brings hard work and trouble
    because they go by so quickly.
    And then we fly off.
Who can comprehend the power of your anger?
    The honor that is due you corresponds to your wrath.
Teach us to number our days
    so we can have a wise heart.

Come back to us, Lord!
    Please, quick!
    Have some compassion for your servants!
Fill us full every morning with your faithful love
    so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long.
Make us happy for the same amount of time that you afflicted us—
    for the same number of years that we saw only trouble.
Let your acts be seen by your servants;
    let your glory be seen by their children.
Let the kindness of the Lord our God be over us.
    Make the work of our hands last.
    Make the work of our hands last! (Common English Bible)

The Bible is first and foremost a collection of books about God. Even though Scripture’s pages are filled with the fame and foibles of humans, nevertheless, the biblical drama unfolds because of the Lord. Holy Scripture is, indeed, a self-revelation of God.

There are times we get too focused on ourselves – our fears, inadequacies, weaknesses, failures – and lose sight of just how huge God really is. Today’s psalm helps reorient us back toward the grand Sovereign of the universe. There is a decidedly theistic worldview espoused and embedded in the psalm. It is a cosmology dominated by the immensity and largeness of a Creator God who is pictured as completely in control of all creation.

Let’s face it: Our lives are a weird and complex concoction of fear and joy that can combust at any time. We swing from high to low, and low to high. If we are on an even keel, its only because we are currently in the middle of swaying to one extreme or the other. Even introverts are familiar with this – it just happens to take place mostly inside their vast inner world, instead of on the outside for all to see.

So, we all need the grand vision of God in this psalm to anchor us through the unpredictable vicissitudes of life. Before the mountains were brought forth, or the earth was formed, from everlasting to everlasting the Lord is God. 

The transcendent God, although high and above everything in all creation, is not at all aloof from humanity; the Lord of the universe is also imminently close. God is near enough to know both our outward iniquities as well as our secret sins. Nothing gets by God. The Lord always knows the score.

The proper and appropriate response to such a God is to exclaim along with the psalmist to teach us to number our days so that we may get a heart of wisdom. Whenever we appropriate a biblical worldview, we learn to measure our days and live consistently moral lives with wholeness and integrity. 

This is why a regular regimen of the psalms is important to us, so that we will continually have before us the basic nature and character of God. And, as we do so, we cannot help but reflect God’s glory and contribute to human flourishing on this earth and the care of all creation.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, we rejoice in your greatness and power, your gentleness and love, your mercy and justice. Enable us by your Spirit to honor you in our thoughts, words, and actions, and to serve you in every aspect of our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 146 – Underdog

Praise the Lord!

Let all that I am praise the Lord.
    I will praise the Lord as long as I live.
    I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath.

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
    there is no help for you there.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
    and all their plans die with them.
But joyful are those who have the God of Israelas their helper,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them.
    He keeps every promise forever.
He gives justice to the oppressed
    and food to the hungry.
The Lord frees the prisoners.
    The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down.
    The Lord loves the godly.
The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
    He cares for the orphans and widows,
    but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.

The Lord will reign forever.
    He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations.

Praise the Lord! (New Living Translation)

I confess to being a classic cartoon connoisseur. Adults told me when I was a kid that I would outgrow watching them. Well, I’m still waiting for that day. 

One of the cartoons I enjoyed (and still do!) watching is “Underdog” (1964-1973). There is something deep within the human psyche that cheers for the underdog. Wally Cox was the perfect voice for the mild-mannered shoe-shine boy to take his underdog super energy pill and fly through the sky to rescue Sweet Polly Purebread.

That “something” inside us which identifies with the underdog is the justice of G-d. 

It’s important to understand that when the term “justice” is used, it isn’t meant primarily in punitive terms, as we might typically think of it. Rather, justice is providing people with what they need to survive, thrive, and flourish in life. Conversely, withholding needs from individuals or groups of people in this world is “injustice.” 

Today’s Psalm lets us know G-d cares about the underdog – the one who lacks basic material and spiritual provisions for living. 

G-d is deeply concerned for those who are powerless, defenseless, and on the margins of society. The psalmist identifies such persons: the hungry; prisoners; the blind; those bowed down; the orphan; and the widow. All these people represent individuals without ability to be movers and shakers in society. In short, they need G-d and deserve justice.

The Lord delights to use divine power in championing the underdog and lifting them up. What’s more, truth be told, it turns out that all of us are underdogs. Everyone needs G-d. 

We are meant to both receive and provide justice without prejudice or discrimination. Every action and decision we make is really G-d’s grace and enablement to do it. Thus, the logical and reasonable response to such a G-d is praise – to declare our hallelujahs to the One who reigns forever and will always see humanity’s great need. 

So, how will you acknowledge and praise G-d today for divine attributes and actions? Let such praise shape your soul and lift your spirit as you intentionally connect with the gracious G-d who gives us what we need so that we can say, “There’s no need to fear. Underdog is here!”

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. Amen.

Job 39:1-30 – Questions without Answers

God responds to Job out of the whirlwind by William Blake (1757-1827)

When do mountain goats
    and deer give birth?
Have you been there
    when their young are born?
How long are they pregnant
    before they deliver?
Soon their young grow strong
and then leave
    to be on their own.

Who set wild donkeys free?
I alone help them survive
    in salty desert sand.
They stay far from crowded cities
    and refuse to be tamed.
Instead, they roam the hills,
    searching for pastureland.

Would a wild ox agree
to live in your barn
    and labor for you?
Could you force him to plow
or to drag a heavy log
    to smooth out the soil?
Can you depend on him
to use his great strength
    and do your heavy work?
Can you trust him
    to harvest your grain
or take it to your barn
    from the threshing place?

An ostrich proudly
    flaps her wings,
but not because
    she loves her young.
She abandons her eggs
and lets the dusty ground
    keep them warm.
And she doesn’t seem to worry
that the feet of an animal
    could crush them all.
She treats her eggs as though
    they were not her own,
unconcerned that her work
    might be for nothing.
I myself made her foolish
    and without common sense.
But once she starts running,
she laughs at a rider
    on the fastest horse.

Did you give horses their strength
and the flowing hair
    along their necks?
Did you make them able
    to jump like grasshoppers
or to frighten people
    with their snorting?

Before horses are ridden
    into battle,
they paw at the ground,
    proud of their strength.
Laughing at fear, they rush
    toward the fighting,
while the weapons of their riders
    rattle and flash in the sun.
Unable to stand still,
they gallop eagerly into battle
    when trumpets blast.
Stirred by the distant smells
and sounds of war,
they snort
    in reply to the trumpet.

Did you teach hawks to fly south
    for the winter?
Did you train eagles to build
    their nests on rocky cliffs,
where they can look down
    to spot their next meal?
Then their young gather to feast
    wherever the victim lies. (Contemporary English Version)

God has a way of asking questions for which he already has answers to.

The older I get, and the more understanding I gain, the more I realize how little knowledge I truly possess. When I was eighteen years old, I thought I had the world pretty much figured out. Since then, it has all been downhill. With each passing year, my ignorance seems to grow exponentially.

I suppose this all really makes some sense when talking about God’s upside-down kingdom. So much more of life is a mystery to us than we realize. Turns out that those with understanding need to become stupid before they can truly be wise. Seems like the biblical character of Job found this out the hard way.

If there is any person in Holy Scripture that would be wise and understanding, its him. God speaks highly of Job in the Bible. Regarding the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem, God said, “even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 14:14). Job is held up the model of patience under suffering: “As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11).

Yet, with all of Job’s integrity, patience, and righteousness his understanding can barely get a movement on the Richter Scale of God’s expansive knowledge. Being a conscientious follower of God, Job is careful to live uprightly. He acknowledges God in all things and worships him alone. Yet, suffering befell him – for no other reason than that God allowed it. Job knew fully well that there was no personal sin behind his awful ordeal of grief and grinding pain.

So, Job contended with God. For an agonizing thirty-five chapters (Job 3:1-37:24) Job questions God and respectfully takes him to task – as Job’s supposed friends questioned him and assume his guilt. Through it all God is there… silent, saying nothing….

Then, just when we think God is paying no attention, he suddenly speaks. And what is so remarkable about God’s speech is that for four chapters God gives no answers (Job 38:1-41:34). It is all questions. God said, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me” (Job 38:3).

It becomes abundantly clear after just a few questions that it would be impossible for any human being to even come close to having the understanding to answer anything God asks. And that was the whole point. God is God, and we are not. Our questions, however legitimate, real, and raw they are, come from a very puny perspective.

We just don’t know as much as we think we do.

To Job’s great credit, he keeps his mouth shut and listens. At the end of the questioning, Job responds in the only wise way one could after such an encounter: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).

None of this means that, for us, we need to face our hardships and our sufferings with a stoic keep-a-stiff-upper-lip approach. Trapped grief will inevitably come out sideways and only cause more hurt.

I believe God allowed Job to express his terrible physical, emotional, and spiritual pain for chapter after chapter because he needed to. Only when God sensed it was the proper timing did he jump in and bring the perspective Job then needed. And even after being challenged by God about his vantage point, Job still did not receive answers as to why he had to endure the awfulness of loss beyond what most of us could comprehend.

It just might be that, even if God directly answered all our questions, we still would not understand what the heck is happening to us.

Most likely, God protects us from knowing things that might bring irreparable damage to our human psyches. Yet, this is all pure conjecture. Which leaves us with perhaps one of our greatest challenges as human beings: We must eventually come to the place of being comfortable with mystery – and even embracing it. We simply will not have all things revealed to us that we want to know. And that’s okay.

Anytime we try to pin God down to nice, neat, understandable categories, he typically colors outside our human contrived lines and demonstrates he cannot be contained in our ramshackle box.

God is unbound by any human knowledge, understanding, ideas, or plans. God will do what God will do. God will be who God will be. “I Am who I Am,” he once said. Now that’s a God I can put my trust in.

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace. Amen.