Tag Archives: Values

Psalm 37 A Song of a Wise Life

An Old Woman Reading, Probably the Prophetess Hannah by Rembrandt (1631)

Psalm 37

<Of David.>
1 א  Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,
 2 for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
 3 ב Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
 4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
 5 ג Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
 6 He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
 7 ד Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
 8 ה Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret — it leads only to evil.
 9 For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
 10 ו Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
 11 But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
 12 ז The wicked plot against the righteous, and gnash their teeth at them;
 13 but the LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees that their day is coming.
 14 ח The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to kill those who walk uprightly;
 15 their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.
 16 ט Better is a little that the righteous person has than the abundance of many wicked.
 17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous.
 18 י The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will abide forever;
 19 they are not put to shame in evil times, in the days of famine they have abundance.
 20 כ But the wicked perish, and the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish — like smoke they vanish away.
 21 ל The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving;
 22 for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
 23 מ Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when he delights in our way;
 24 though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the LORD holds us by the hand.
 25 נ I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.
 26 They are ever giving liberally and lending, and their children become a blessing.
 27 ס Depart from evil, and do good; so you shall abide forever.
 28 For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones.
    ע The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
 29 The righteous shall inherit the land, and live in it forever.
 30 פ The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice.
 31 The law of their God is in their hearts; their steps do not slip.
 32 צ The wicked watch for the righteous, and seek to kill them.
 33 The LORD will not abandon them to their power, or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.
 34 ק Wait for the LORD, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked.
 35 ר I have seen the wicked oppressing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.
 36 Again I passed by, and they were no more; though I sought them, they could not be found.
 37  ש Mark the blameless, and behold the upright, for there is posterity for the peaceable.
 38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off.
 39  ת The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their refuge in the time of trouble.
 40 The LORD helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.

I have introduced the Hebrew letters at the beginning of each acrostic line to show the structure of this poem. The psalms frequently use acrostic poetry as a form which tends to denote a completion of thought from Aleph to Tav (or in our alphabet the equivalent would be from A to Z). Psalm 37 uses this form to express the contrast between the life of the wicked and the life of the righteous. The psalm was works in a similar way to the book of Proverbs where the words are a tool for passing on a manner of life that values the correct things. It encourages the hearer to take the long view of life as it compares the momentary success of the wicked and the way of the righteous.

Psalm 37, like much wisdom literature, wrestles with the common question of every age: Why do those who seem to be wicked often prosper and those who are faithful struggle? Or in simpler terms: Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people? No psalm, poetry, proverbs or philosophy can adequately address every aspect of this fundamental question, but the poets, wise ones and prophets of the bible do attempt to give their provisional answers to these questions because they are important to how they understand what a good life looks life. In the psalms God is fundamentally trustworthy and, even when situations seem to testify otherwise, the authors trust that God’s will and God’s way will prevail. Psalm 37 attempts to make a case for faithfulness in the seeming prosperity of the faithless and for the long view of life in contrast to the ways of the wicked which focus on the immediate reward of their actions.

The psalm invites us into a life that is not dominated by worrying about how other’s actions are rewarded but rather to trust in the LORD amid the positives and negatives of life. It encourages the hearer to expand the horizon of their consideration beyond the transitory present. Throughout the psalms the LORD is trustworthy, sees the struggles of the righteous and does, in God’s time, act. The longstanding faithfulness of God is contrasted with the transitory prosperity of those who act unethically or who live wicked lives that are centered on their own interests. Vengeance and justice rest in God’s hands and it is ultimately God who will cut off the wicked, who will bring their plots and their power to an end. Their own actions will become their undoing and in time they will fade away while the righteous endure. For now, they may be imposing, like the cedars of Lebanon, but the day will come when the LORD’s ax will cut them down at the roots.

This psalm echoes in the sermon on the mount, where Jesus can state, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) In contrast to a worldview where one should seize all that one can this psalm offers a view of the world that outlasts those who grasp for land, wealth and power. This bit of wisdom points to a life of generosity and trust. One can lend and give generously because the righteous one can trust that the LORD will provide for their needs. They in their lives of generosity, the lives they model and hand on to their children, become a blessing to the world around them. They seek the good of the community and justice trusting that their God is a God of goodness and justice.

Psalm 37 in particular and wisdom literature in general attempts to pass on a way of life and cultivate practices that lead towards a whole life. I believe we ask this question too infrequently in our time. The question of the practices and values of a good life are questions that need to be asked as they are handed on from generation to generation. Part of the answer comes from the experiences of life. Like the psalmist we may be able to reflect upon times where someone’s power and prosperity that were accumulated in an unjust manner proved temporary. Like the psalmist we may reflect upon the way that God’s prosperity has provided for us in our own life. Reflections like this one do not deny the challenge of those who prosper while doing evil or who struggle while trying to live a righteous life. But they wrestle with these questions from the position of trust. The psalmist and those who echo this psalm believe that God is ultimately trustworthy. They believe, even when confronted by those who see prosperity in a life that goes against their values, that a life lived in the practices of wisdom and righteousness are worth living. They view life in a longer horizon than the profits of the moment or the experience of the day. Without discounting their present experience, they can set aside their anger, envy and strife because they trust that the LORD who has created the day will provide for them today and tomorrow. They sing a song of gratitude and trust and that song shapes the values and practices of the life they live.

Psalm 26- A Liturgy for the Falsely Accused

The Temple by Radojavor@deviantart.com

The Temple by Radojavor@deviantart.com

Psalm 26

<Of David.>
 1 Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
 2 Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind.
 3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.
 4 I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;
 5 I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.
 6 I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD,
 7 singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
 8 O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.
 9 Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty,
 10 those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes.
 11 But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.
 12 My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the LORD.

Many have stood in times where they felt unjustly accused by those in authority or those with power in their lives (whether friends, family, or perhaps in an educational, work or legal setting). In a familiar pattern from the Psalms in this part of the book of Psalms the petitioner and God stand against the judgment they experience from the forces around them. Martin Luther, for example, could reference his own struggles in attempting to be faithful to God’s Word and the persecution he is feeling in 1525 when he expounds upon the Psalm, (LW 12: 184) The Psalm invites us into that struggle with the difference between the life one expects in attempting to be faithful to God and the reality that the faithful one may experience.

The first two verses call upon God to act: to vindicate and to prove. Ultimately the crux of the Psalm is the trust that the speaker has for the LORD. They have tried to walk in a manner that reflects that faith and trust and it is that walk that has led them into this time of trial. The LORD is the one they call upon to act in setting the tables right and restoring the things that have been lost in this time where their way of life has been called into question. In parallel with this prayer to be vindicated is a parallel prayer to be evaluated. They cry on the LORD to weigh their life on the scales of justice and to see if their punishment is just. In the psalmist’s view the struggles they are going through do not fit the life they have tried to live and they open themselves up to God’s evaluation. This is perhaps a terrifying place for many people who are painfully aware of their sins or times they have not been completely faithful but as Beth Tanner can state about this text, “The point here is not to prove oneself, but to demonstrate one’s trust in God’s power of hesed and grace.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 263)

It would be easy to become critical of the tone of this and many other Psalms where the psalmist places themselves in the position of the righteous one who is judged and yet that would miss the point in this Psalm. The Psalms are experienced theology put into prose rather than some type of systematic theology which needs to be consistent throughout. The freedom of the Psalms is the ability to give voice in a faithful way to the world one is experiencing. There will be moments where the Psalms will focus on the writer’s guilt or their need of redemption, but there are also times in the Psalms and in life where the speaker feels unjustly persecuted. The Psalms can provide us a ‘Liturgy for the Falsely Accused’ in the words of William Bellinger and Walter Brueggemann. (Brueggeman, 2014, p. 137) There are times where we need to know that we are innocent, or at least justified if we want to be dogmatic, where we haven’t associated with the wrong people or done the wrong things. Where our life has attempted to closely follow our values and where we do need a God who can judge between us and our persecutors. We want God to discriminate between us and the ones who we feel have acted unjustly. Maybe in the space of the prayer God acts, maybe in the space of the prayer our enemy changes, or maybe in the space of the prayer we are tested in heart and mind and we need to change. Yet, the speaker trusts that God will do something with their words and with their life. God will not remain silent and inactive.

Most of the prayer calls upon God to act on the psalmist’s behalf: to vindicate and to prove and not to sweep them away with the sinners. Yet, in the final two verses we return to the life the speaker is trying to live, a life that is in harmony with the trust they have in their LORD and the integrity in which they have attempted to walk. Even before God’s redemption they will continue to walk in integrity, and to bless the LORD in the worshipping community. They will continue to try to live the life they feel called to live, a life faithful to their calling as a person of the LORD.

Living Brave Semester Reflection 1- Central Values

candle

I have found Brené Brown’s work incredibly helpful in my personal and professional life and I am excited to be taking part in her Living Brave semester. In addition to the exercises I wanted to reflect on something that came out of each session for me that I want to spend a little more time reflecting upon. The final exercise of the initial session involved identifying the 1-2 values that light the way in our lives, and she presents a huge list to choose from. I tried to get down to two, but ended up with three-two being in perhaps tension or paradox to make sense of the third one. The three values for me were authenticity, grace and competence.

Competence- I have always been a person who is driven to be good at whatever I do. This has its benefits and challenges, but it is a part of my personality that is not going to change. I am naturally curious and want to continually learn and grow as well as teach and I have extremely high standards for myself. The benefit of this is that I am a self-directed learner and worker who probably does far more than what is expected of me in most circumstances. I can set my mind to a task, almost any task, and I will find a way to learn and master it. On the weakness side this means my default is to judge myself and others by their competence (and at its worst to even assign value based on competence). While this fuels my creativity it can also be a harsh taskmaster and I need the next value to be its paradox and provide the (hopefully) healthy tension that I live within.

Grace- There are a cluster of faith and forgiveness related words that help flesh out what grace means to me, and the understanding of grace does come out of my faith. Fundamentally I believe that God is a gracious God and that God’s calling to me is to be a gracious person. Grace helps me to be far less judgmental towards others than I would otherwise be inclined to be.  It also helps me to own my failures and to learn from them, or to acknowledge the times when I am driving myself mercilessly and unrealistically.  It has also allowed me to acknowledge creativity as something that is sometimes not within my control, but like a muse visits for a time and may depart at another. It has allowed me to find peace in the midst of the work and significantly more joy in life.

Authenticity-To me this is that place where the grace and the competence meet to make me the complex person that I am. I try very hard to be open and honest in my personal and professional life, no longer striving to fit in but rather embracing who I am and claiming my gifts and struggles. I can be hard on myself when I feel a disconnect between my beliefs and my actions, which comes from the competence side, but I have also learned that forgiveness and grace are a fundamental part of who I am and hope to be and I want others to see that embodied in my life.