I want to share with you some thoughts about my random Bible reading for today. I used to try to follow along with a Daily Bible or at least to go in chronological or some other order, but I have found that it works better for me right now to read bigger, "stand alone" sections every few days instead of reading smaller bits of a continuing story every single day. Don't worry; I do try to read a big enough chunk each time to get the full context. Actually, for things like the "Pauline Epistles" (especially, say, Galatians or Ephesians) I highly recommend reading entire books in single sittings to achieve greater understanding. Anyway, this morning I randomly opened up to Psalm 119, and, to be honest, I was not so thrilled about it. For one thing, I knew I needed to read the entire Psalm (which is long) to get the big picture. Also, the whole thing is about following God's law (which can be a major guilt trip if taken the wrong way). However, in reading it this time I was intrigued, encouraged, and challenged. Below are just some of the ideas and questions I gleaned from it. For those of you who have studied it too, I welcome your thoughts as well.
One of the first things that caught my mind was in verse 41: "May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise." Those of us who read this now through the lens of Christ might pass this over because we are so used to hearing about salvation and the fulfillment of God's promises. However, when David wrote this, Christ had not yet died, and I'm not sure what God had told David about the whole salvation thing. I'm very interested to know what David was talking about here (and in the numerous other places in the Psalm where he mentions salvation). The quick answer that comes to my brain is that David was referring to the promises God gave to Abraham and Moses, particularly the stuff in Deuteronomy about the blessings the Israelites would receive for following God's laws. I get the feeling from various accounts of David that he took this stuff very seriously. I just wonder what he actually knew about the salvation that would come through Christ's sacrifice. When we read Psalm 119, which type of "salvation" should we be thinking about? Like I said, we are accustomed to thinking of salvation through Christ, but is there some other level of salvation from God that David knew before Christ even came? (I certainly don't believe in salvation apart from Christ, but is Christ's salvation a part of some bigger, general kind of salvation?)
Another thought I had that partially answers this question is that there is benefit simply from following the laws themselves. In verse 45, David says, "I walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts." In general, we tend not to associate laws with a word like "freedom." Again, this makes sense in light of Christ sacrifice, but that hadn't happened yet. I propose that these laws (or "precepts" or whatever) are not so much devices to control us and to keep us from doing what we want (i.e. experiencing "freedom") but are statements about the way the world works. (C.S. Lewis talks about this in "Mere Christianity," which we are studying in our Sunday AM class, but this idea has been rolling around in my brain for a while now.) These moral, spiritual laws are, in my opinion, akin to laws of science like Gravity and Relativity. Verse 152 says, "Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever." As long as there is a physical world, things that go up will always come down again. In the same way, it is always a good idea to treat people with the love in which you would have them treat you, and there will never be a situation in which you should cheat on your spouse. What I wonder is, if gravity can be observed scientifically and even measured, can the same be done with spiritual laws? Well, I know that we can observe them, but it would be interesting to see if they can be tested and analyzed scientifically. Maybe it doesn't work that way; I don't know. I guess maybe that's what the Pharisees tried to do, breaking the laws down into formulas. Still, it would be encouraging to have everyone agree that, yes, this is how the world works and so we should live accordingly.
I say that, feeling frustrated that the world just doesn't "get it," even though God's laws really are as obvious as gravity. However, I myself don't follow these laws perfectly (far from it), even though I know how good and true they are. The third thing I noticed in this Psalm was David's cry for help from God so that he would be able to follow the laws. He uses phrases like "do not let me stray from your commands," "turn my heart toward your statutes," "let no sin rule over me," etc. Over and over again he asks God to come in and control him. On the surface, that looks even less like "freedom," but if you think about it in terms of freedom from sin, it makes a lot of sense. I have had numerous discussions with people about free will versus God's control over our lives (though I really don't wish to get into that here), and many people have brought up that God doesn't micro-manage our lives. However, I say that the absolute best thing for us would be to have God micro-manage our lives. We know from experience that, despite our best intentions, we simply can't follow God's laws perfectly on our own. What a relief it would be to have God swoop in and make us do everything we're supposed to do! (I understand that would affect the love element on our part, but I am talking about God controlling people who have already decided to love Him.) I love verse 109: "Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law." I know I live this way all the time, doing things that are stupid even though I haven't forgotten what I should be doing. What I really want is for my life to be in God's "hands." Thankfully, we do have salvation, and we live in a time when we do know about Christ. We don't have to be plagued by guilt all the time, so I can read this Psalm without breaking down in shame.
If anyone has any thoughts to add, especially if you have any more information about the context of this Psalm, please share.