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Jul 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

From My Private Vault

Don’t ask why, because I don’t know. But I decided to blog my meditation from this morning.

This year I am reading through the New Jerusalem Bible, so if the passages I quote sound strange to you, that is why. Also, I am reading three chapters from the Old Testament each morning and one from the New. That’s all the explaining I’m going to do. Anything else in the following meditation that doesn’t make sense to you will have to remain a mystery.

But who can detect his own failings?
Wash away my hidden faults.

Psalm 19:12

I can distance myself from the poet, make “objective” observations about the worldview of his culture and time, construct a summation of his theology, and conclude that his song reflects a simplistic idea of piety. Certainly, if we take literally the generalization of the lines that follow those quoted above, his idea of piety is simplistic:

And from pride preserve your servant,
never let it be my master.
So shall I be above reproach,
free from grave sin.

Psalm 19:13

Can I say that if God covers the sins of which I am guilty either through commission or ommission, and preserves me from pride, that I will be “above reproach” and no longer in danger of committing a serious sin? Isn’t it true, at least in my case, that there are sins besides pride that I am fully aware of, yet they still represent a real danger even when I see the temptation coming?

So it is possible for me to read this Psalm and think I cannot make it my song because my situation is far more complex. But from another point of view, I find in the poet’s heart a realization, a struggle, a frustration, and a disappointment that is identical to my own. In praising the glory of God’s administration of the universe (vv. 1-6) and the Law he has revealed for the administration of human lives and their societies (vv. 7-11), the poet cannot shut out of his consciousness the contradiction that he himself┬árepresents.

Standing in a universe whose voice “discourses” on the wisdom of its design and Designer, a universe that evokes awe in the one sentient being we know of in all the universe who can appreciate such things and is able to voluntarily surrender to God’s design, he realizes that he does not always choose to do so. He alone has the voice that can actually speak of God’s wonders (cf., v. 3), yet he alone chooses to live in violation of them.

Perhaps he hopes that all sin (and transgression or “grave sin” in particular) can be traced back to pride–why else would anyone rebel against such a perfect order? Therefore, if he could be rid of his pride, he could rid himself of sin. But isn’t he missing an important law of the universe; namely, that each object, particle, force, and organism acts according to its own nature? So even if God were to descend beneath the words of his mouth to the whispering of his heart (v. 14), he would not necessarily look with favor on what he found there. Not, unless, he changed the nature of that heart (see Ps. 51:10).

Jumping forward in time by a few centuries, I find myself going through a similiar mental process while reading Paul. If I take one aspect of his thesis in Ephesians 2:1-13, it seems possible to characterize it in the following way:

God created humankind. Next, God condemned humankind to hell. But then, to show how good he is, God saved some humans (Ep. 2:7).

I could assume that this formulation would make perfect sense to a mind like Paul’s, seeped as it was in rabbinical teaching regarding Gentiles being fodder for the fires of hell, taking for granted that damnation was the destiny of the majority of the world’s population. But can I live at this “sophisticated” distance from the Scripture? Is my characterization of Paul’s point correct (or intellectually honest)?

I think Paul would say, “You misunderstand. I am not talking about humankind. I am talking about you! Do you not find it incredible and a wonder of grace that God would take you–contradiction that you are–to himself?” And here I would have to fully agree with Paul. Leave the rest of the world aside for a moment. I am well aware of the fact that the life of blessing I enjoy–and especially the place where I stand with Jesus Christ–rests completely on the grace of God. Of all people who could belong to him, I am here. That’s the miracle.

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