Unanticipated delays

I realise Psalm 8’s running a bit late. I haven’t had time to write it yet, with today being a little busier than I had anticipated. I promise to have it up by tomorrow.

I also missed last Friday’s post. Again, I was too busy to finish writing it. I will complete that this week and post it up on Friday.

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Psalm 7: The Righteousness of God in the Suicide of Evil

God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day. (v.11)

Righteousness is an unfamiliar term to modern ears. When it is used, it is often accompanied with sarcastic overtones to disparagingly describe a person with a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. This sort of baggage means that the word is often lost in translation. Yet Scripture resounds with the truth of the righteousness of God. As such, if we are to know God truly, it is necessary for us to recover a biblical understanding of the righteousness of God.

What does it mean for God to be righteous? The righteousness of God is an elusively difficult attribute to define. There is an element of judging in strict accordance with a moral standard. There is an element of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people, in which he remains true to his promises. But it seems to me that Piper hits the nail on the head with his definition: his absolute faithfulness always to act for his own name’s sake and for the preservation and display of his glory.

Yes, there is a judgment in strict accordance with a moral standard. But the moral standard does not stand apart from God, as if God is bound to external standards. The moral standard by which God judges the world is the standard of his glory. The indignation he feels every day is when his glory is not honoured as it ought to be, and people willingly exchange his glory for lesser things. God’s righteousness demands justice be served, yet he also makes a covenant with his people, promising an unbroken relationship with them. How can God be faithful to his covenant and to the honour of his name? The tension is clearly resolved in Romans 3:21-26. In and through Jesus, God’s glory is upheld and his people are brought back into relationship with him

But we are not in Romans 3 yet. Coming back to Psalm 7, God is called the righteous judge. Part of what it means for him to be a judge is seen in verse 12. “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword.” The psalmist understands that repentance is the means by which the punishment of God is averted. How can repentance feasibly cover the debt of life we owe to God? Already, there is an anticipation of the day that God sends his Son to die for the sins of the world.

For those who do not repent, God will prepare his deadly weapons (v.13). What are these deadly weapons? Interestingly, the psalmist points out that God has designed the world in such a way that evil always commits suicide. The wicked man always falls into the pit he has dug for others, and his mischief and violence always rebound on his own head. This does not convey the totality of eternal punishment, yet God in his wisdom has deemed it fitting to display the folly of evil by its inability to accomplish its own ends. The great irony of wickedness is that all acts of evil, while evil in themselves, always resolve into some greater good. Evil ultimately defeats itself.

The wisdom of God and the foolishness of evil are seen most brilliantly in the cross of Christ. There, Jesus “was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, to be crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.(Acts 2:23)” The greatest act of evil history will ever witness was committed that day. The most precious being in the universe, namely the Son of God, would suffer the ignominy of death. Yet this happened according to the plan of God, for he had planned to display his righteousness at the cross. Satan sought to deal a deathly blow to the incarnate glory of God, but in doing so committed suicide. For only through death could Jesus destroy the one who holds the power of death, and so ransom a people for himself who will sing his praises throughout all eternity:

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. (v.17)

The stink of entitlement

There is a stink that permeates our political discourse these days. It is the stink of entitlement.

From rioting in Athens and ballooning budget deficits in the US over welfare benefits, to the ingrained institution of positive racial discrimination policies in countries like Malaysia and South Africa, there is an increasingly blurred distinction between the ideals of privilege and entitlement.

What is the key distinction? The privileged owes a debt of gratitude to a benefactor. The entitled is owed a debt. The fundamental positions of the two result in very different responses. The privileged has responsibilities to fulfill. The entitled is free to live off his debtors.

Christians ought to understand this principle more than anyone else. Luke 12:48 states that “everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” The gospel that gives us all that we need for life and much more demands that we give to others in accordance with the measure of grace that has been given to us.

We should never confuse this with a gospel of works. The latter does not earn the former. The former is freely and graciously given to us through Jesus Christ. The latter is the only plausible response to the overwhelming gift of grace. When we forget the order of things, privilege sours into entitlement. We think that we deserve the gifts of God because of the things we have done for him. That will never ever be true. God is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:25)

Now the problem is that the sinfulness of our hearts makes it extremely difficult to understand the idea of privilege. The self-centeredness of a heart enslaved by sin sours every privilege into entitlement. We experience this in our relationships, where we can feel that we are entitled to the friendship of others because of the service we have rendered to them. Yet this sense of entitlement ruins the very nature of friendship. True friendship is held together by the bonds of privilege, where we count it all joy to be able to count others as our friends.

The problems we see on the level of the individual is magnified in our societies. What happens in a democracy when everyone considers themselves as the entitled? First, it means you have to create a class of debtors. Second, the debtors will want to migrate to the camp of the entitled. No one is foolish enough to work hard that others may enjoy the fruit of his labour. This leaves us with a glaring problem. The entitled need sufficient debtors to fund a certain lifestyle, so what happens when there are insufficient debtors?

There are two ways to go about this. One, you stop people from migrating between the camps. We see this in positive racial discrimination policies. Two, you select debtors who are unable to migrate between the camps. We see this when governments borrow excessively with the expectation that the next generation will pay off the debts of this generation. Since the unborn have no voice, the problem is put off for yet another generation.

Social harmony cannot exist when society is divided along lines of entitlement. A social contract in which one party does all the work and the other enjoys the rewards is economically and socially unsustainable. With a degree of foresight, most societies will choose option number two, since the unborn cannot protest. Yet this does not resolve problems of economic unsustainability. It only serves to highlight the extent of our selfishness, that we are willing to sacrifice our children and the children of others on the altar of material gain.

What can we do to stop the inevitable slide of a social contract built on entitlement? We need to recover the idea of privilege. Take for example the Bumi policies in Malaysia. I don’t really have a problem with the government trying to help the Bumis to move up the economic ladder. My worry is that the privileges they have been given has soured into entitlements. As such, there is no incentive on their part to fulfill their responsibilities to society, since in their eyes, such responsibilities do not exist. There is a need to recover the biblical principle that to him who has been given much, much is required.

Nevertheless, the problem remains that the sinful heart will find it indubitably difficult to live by that principle.

Psalm 6: Infallible Heavenly Logic

There are three things of note in Psalm 6.

First, life is full of grief and trouble. David is languishing, his bones are troubled and his soul is also greatly troubled. He is weary with moaning, he floods his bed with tears and he drenches his couch with his weeping. In fact, he is so full of grief that his eyes are wasting away from the constant weeping.

Is this an exaggeration on David’s part? I do not think so. Those who are well acquainted with grief and trouble know the ache it brings to the heart, soul and body.

Second, God is sovereign over trouble. At one level, David’s grief is linked to his foes (v.7). Yet David does not open his psalm by placing the blame on them. Instead, he places the blame on himself and attributes responsibility to God. From verse 1, it is clear that David believes that God has every reason to be angry at him, and every right to rebuke and discipline him. David’s enemies are merely instruments in the hand of an angry God.

This is a view of God many seldom take, with the protest that God is fundamentally a God of love. But in reducing God’s love to mere sentimentality, many neglect the biblical fact that God’s most defining attribute in the Bible is his holiness. The saints and angels do not cry “Lovely, lovely, lovely” but “Holy, holy, holy”. Consequently, we go through life thinking that we deserve only blessing from God, and curse him when trouble comes.

It is ultimately at the cross where the holiness and love of God meets. There the wrath of God is poured out on Jesus instead of us, so that we can be reconciled back to God. For all who are in Christ, there is no longer any wrath and fury left for us. We have a Heavenly Father who loves us, yet in his love he will exercise any necessary discipline for our good. Nevertheless it remains a sobering and humbling exercise to remind ourselves that we were once children of wrath, deserving only punishment, and all that we have and all that we are now solely and completely rests on the grace of God in Jesus. Consequently, we go through life with gratitude and wide-eyed wonder at the undeserved blessings we receive.

Third, God is more glorified when he is praised for his love than when his glory is vindicated by the dispensation of justice. More concisely, God receives more glory through redeeming us, not through punishing us. In this sense, while holiness is the fundamental attribute of God, God delights to exercise his holiness in love rather than in justice. David knows this, grounding his appeal to God for deliverance in these words – “save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” (v.4-5)

And so God answers his prayers (v.8-10). This is something we would do well to remember. Though it is God who permits grief and trouble to afflict us in this life, these are providentially designed to call us to turn to him for deliverance, so that we might praise the One to whom we owe every breath and blessing. This infallible chain of heavenly logic is a sure and certain foundation for peace amidst trouble.

Disturbingly wonderful stories in the Old Testament

What are the purpose of stories? Why did God choose to reveal himself through historical narratives, and not merely as a set of propositions or pithy sayings?

Stories are built into the very fabric of the universe. They set the imagination alight. They provide us with perspectives and experiences. To read that fire is hot is not the same as reading of listening to the crackle and watching the comforting orange glow of dancing flames radiating a gentle warmth on a cold winter night.

The Bible is full of strange and wonderful stories. To call something a story does not mean it is fictional. A story is merely a recounting of an event, either true or fictitious. The stories of the Bible are true, and give us a perspective of reality that is firmer and surer than any other.  Yet they are strange, and even disturbing at times, especially in the Old Testament. What comes into your mind when you read of God telling Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac? Or when he calls Hosea to marry a prostitute?

Have a read of this article. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Our God is disturbingly wonderful.

Apologies!

I’ve had an extremely busy week and will be having a pretty packed weekend as well. I’ll resume posting next Friday!

Psalm 5: You Will Have Enemies

We’re only 5 Psalms in and a pattern is already starting to emerge.

Solzhenitsyn wrote that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” So far, the Psalms we have read have only served to confirm this very insight. There is the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. Every man must choose between the two ways. We can scoff and reject or kiss the Son. Every man must choose what he does with the Son. In doing so, we make ourselves out as a people belonging to God or as enemies of God. Humanity is divided by where they stand in relation to God.

It is easy to think very little of this division. We all have non-Christian friends or relatives who are not opposed to our faith, and can be rather supportive to a good degree. This is a blessing we should thank God for – that those who are enemies of God are not our enemies. Yet there are undoubtedly many Christians across the world, today and in ages past, who are virulently and violently persecuted for their faith. They show us with certainty that there are those among the enemies of God who will also be our enemies.

There are three things to note from this Psalm.

First, God’s people will always have enemies. But let our enemies be our enemies because they are God’s enemies. Don’t make others out as enemies of God simply because they are our enemies. David describes his enemies (v.8) as those who have rebelled against God (v.10).

Second, it is a fearful thing to be an enemy of God. He hates all evildoers (v.5), he destroys those who speak lies (v.6), he will cast out rebels because of the abundance of their transgressions (v.10).

Third, the dividing line can be crossed. David was far from sinless. The story of Bathsheba is a tragic account of how sinful the human heart is. But he was spared from destruction. How can an evil man enter the presence of God (v.4)? He may do so through the abundance of God’s steadfast love (v.7). In the wake of recent books challenging the reality of hell and God’s wrath,  it must be noted that this is not a sentimental, ‘grandfatherly’ love. It is a holy and righteous love that will not sweep sins under the rug and pretend they never existed. All our sins will be accounted for, and God’s justice will finally run its course.

The question is who that wrath falls upon. It can fall upon us, or it can fall upon Jesus, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness at the present time, because in his divine forebearance he had passed over former sins (Romans 3:25).”  David was allowed to enter the house of God because in faith he looked forward to the day when Jesus would finally pay for his sins. Today, we can enter into the presence of God as we look back and believe that Jesus paid for our sins in full on the cross.

Therefore,

let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield. (v.11-12)