I wish I could read this Psalm as a person who isn’t too familiar with the rest of the Bible. Then, perhaps, I could allow the beauty of these words to truly wash over me. Entire denominations divide over how to interpret passages like this. Are David’s words a gift to all comers or are they placed just out of reach, like a cookie jar high on a shelf? Do we give ourself to this Psalm’s depth and beauty or should we pause over the conditions upon which the gift herein is granted?
Are my questions the residue of fundamentalism highjacking what would otherwise be God’s unconditional love? Or are they a fair criticism which scrapes the shellack of an unexplored faith?
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Man’s desire to be in right relationship with our Maker is ubiquitous within all systems of faith. We all know we need mercy. We recognize that our faith is not as unswerving as we portray it. When a man like David says these words, he’s drawing from a life of profound high’s and dire low’s.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
The infinite Largess of God is truly something each soul desperately needs to behold…I believe that is the purpose of this Psalm. We must endeavor to find ourselves written into these words as a co-benefactor with David… who is separated from our sins in such a way that God doesn’t see them nor hold them against us. A God who is conscientious of our frailness within this temporary life placed against the context of eternity, is truly a perspective to behold and grasp…if we can.
And that’s the catch.
Possessing these words as our own is not a mere act of the human will…nor intellect…nor our affections. Even if our desire is to be shaped by them, these “cookies” remain out of reach until they are graced by a work of God in our soul. Like you, I want these words to be true…to feel true…to align with reality…
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
This passage is washed with humanity’s greatest satisfaction…
Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
… but, there is no escaping the conditions upon which these promises are based. No cookie unless our parents are happy with our behavior. We cannot dislocate David’s conditions of “Those who fear him” or “those who keep his covenant” or “Those doing or obeying the voice of his word” and that’s where biblical literacy crashes in on me…
Did God who made his way known to Moses not do so on Nadab and Abide (Moses’s nephew’s) when they placed unauthorized fire on the altar and were immediately killed by God (Leviticus 10:2)? Would the first generation of Israel who all died in the desert for their sin agree that God doesn’t repay us accordingly? Were the sins of Achan (when he coveted the spoils of the enemy Joshua 7:25, and who repented deeply over his mistake) removed as far as the East is from the West, ? How does David who committed adultery and murder get the “free access” pass here when so many in our world are suffering under the consequences of a lesser wrongdoing? Does God heal all our diseases? Does God work righteousness for all the oppressed?
The best answer I can offer is this: TENSION.
Tension is what holds up the Golden Gate Bridge. Tension is the human experience which travels a full spectrum between horribly debased to truly righteous. Our life is a dialectic of shadow and light and both are needed for good art. The promise of being restored to God despite it all can only be found in an experience of God’s presence. We won’t find it in religion. It’s not a transaction for perfect obedience. It isn’t even in this Psalm…but only within God, who is speaking us into each moment by word and life. We must find ourselves there, or we will never be found at all. The condition of fear and obedience and covenant means we must first be consciously aware. It will cost us our fictional life…our self-image, ambitions and appetites. To experience this Psalm, there must be belief that these words apply to us, not because of our effort, but despite the futility of it..
That’s the tension…Perfect imperfection…By design…so we don’t miss God.
Until we fail miserably in our covenant to be righteous, we will only reflect self-righteousness. With our face in the dust, in a state of utter hopelessness, we can ask for help and grace… and that’s precisely when this Psalm comes alive…because it’s reborn in us. The love and grace of God becomes written in and as our life. We become the real, palpable, proof to the world of God’s existence.
The beauty of this Psalm is that we will only find this kind of God at the end of ourself. May our ruin come fast, so this can become reality.