When reading the Psalms a few mornings ago, I was reminded of how I used to interpret the same passages so differently than I do now. Somehow I have a hunch that my understanding will continue to evolve as I keep walking the way of faith. My mind of years past – less seasoned by life experience and less aware of God’s never-relenting LOVE – applied a harsher, more biting tone to much of the Bible, which tightened me up like a calloused kid in the presence of a critical parent. Psalm 89: 38-52, for example:
But now you have rejected him and cast him off. You are angry with your anointed king. 39 You have renounced your covenant with him; you have thrown his crown in the dust. 40 You have broken down the walls protecting him and ruined every fort defending him. 41 Everyone who comes along has robbed him, and he has become a joke to his neighbors. 42 You have strengthened his enemies and made them all rejoice. 43 You have made his sword useless and refused to help him in battle. 44 You have ended his splendor and overturned his throne. 45 You have made him old before his time and publicly disgraced him. 46 O Lord, how long will this go on? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your anger burn like fire? 47 Remember how short my life is, how empty and futile this human existence! 48 No one can live forever; all will die. No one can escape the power of the grave.
49 Lord, where is your unfailing love? You promised it to David with a faithful pledge. 50 Consider, Lord, how your servants are disgraced! I carry in my heart the insults of so many people. 51 Your enemies have mocked me, O Lord; they mock your anointed king wherever he goes.
52 Praise the Lord forever! Amen and amen!
I would read similar passages and question deep down inside myself, “So I’m supposed to trust my life to the care of this God?” And then I’d pretend on the outside to love this powerful being who seemed to keep turning away in scary anger against his children and make them utterly miserable at times. I’d pretend because that seemed to be the “good” and “right” and “praiseworthy” thing to do, and boy did I want to be good and right and praiseworthy. In fact, in many ways I felt I had to, which is a lie that still regularly whispers in my ear.
But as I read this passage with fresh eyes a few days ago, I was drawn to notice the many “you’s.” (Ten, I think.) And rather than descriptions of God’s character, these phrases jumped out at me as being statements of blame. You did this. You did that. You let this happen. You messed up. You failed me.
Scanning back up to the preceeding verses, I saw that God, after repeatedly proclaiming the unfailing nature of his love and loyalty, had straightforwardly laid out the consequences of straying from the principles that govern his good Path of Life:
30 But if his descendants forsake my instructions and fail to obey my regulations, 31 if they do not obey my decrees and fail to keep my commands, 32 then I will punish their sin with the rod, and their disobedience with beating.
Ah! Was the psalmist blaming God for his own stray? Projecting his own guilt onto the God of Love? Refusing to take responsibility for his own unwise choices? Now that was something I sure could relate to.
Perhaps after attributing all of his own missteps to God, the psalmist had a lightning-bolt moment of clarity. “Well shoot, maybe the problem isn’t so much God’s rejection of me, but rather my rejection of him and his ways…………….And yet, God loves me lavishly, even still.”
Perhaps, after his eyes were opened to the uncomfortable truth of his own foolishness, the psalmist’s last words – Praise the Lord forever! Amen and amen! – weren’t spoken from beneath a false facade, but actually sprung from the depths of his heart. Genuine gratitude for God’s never-giving-up grace and a shout of sheer joy – “Thank goodness God thinks differently than I do!”
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9
Are those God’s thoughts, or yours?