Psalm 124

Even Atheists have God on their side. Every breath comes from God.

Or doesn’t, if God is not real.

But it’s not like believers’ breaths come from God and unbelievers’ don’t. It’s one or the other.

Unless reality is subjective. Hmm.

I sometime toy with the idea that my faith is a construct. It’s certainly a culture I enjoy and am comfortable in. It’s an ethic I relate to, it gives me meaning and purpose. If it turned out not actually to be true, I’d still be ahead of the game, really.

But it’s when I contemplate actually trying to believe God is not there that I realise I’m a true believer. You can be frustrated with your spouse or your kids. You can think “if it weren’t for Kelly, I would eat pizza more often. I like pizza” But if they were ever actually gone, your love for them would be overwhelming. Pizza would taste like poisonous cardboard.

On a TV panel show yesterday they were discussing an experiment where they dropped wallets with money to test peoples ethics… Would they take cash and/or credit cards?

The panelists all said they would return it with cash and all, but none would say because it was the right thing to do. They came up with pretty far fetched scenarios about how it was actually to their benefit to hand it in. One of the panelists, a Muslim, didn’t comment. He would have put it in a moral framework, maybe he was embarrassed to link it to faith in God? It made me think that absolute right and wrong seem out of fashion, an uncomfortable reason for doing things.

Anyway this psalm is all about remembering and realising how we would be nowhere but for God. King David points to tangible examples of saving grace in the past. Then the last image, of a bird escaping a snare, and the snare being destroyed, opens up larger, more permanent aspects of God’s grace and love.

God’s presence, moment to moment. And in a larger, eternal sense, no more tears, crying or pain.

Free as a bird.

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Psalm 79

Just read the Wikipedia article about Asaph, the author of these Psalms. It has a good pithy commentary on all the recent Psalms.

Today’s is a lament.

We start with a crane shot like the one showing the civil war in ‘Gone with the Wind’. The defiled temple, Jerusalem in rubble, dead bodies and blood exposed to the sky for animals to attack.

That what got me reading about Asaph. They said it may have referred to a number of temple musicians, not just a single person.

Unless this is a prophesy, he was there for the destruction of Jerusalem. I was surprised at the late date.

The Psalm appeals to God’s mercy and fairness.

It acknowledges God’s anger, which is an acknowledgement of human sin and the possibility of destruction at all times, held off by God mercy. If God is angry, he allows the inherently greedy powerful empires to attack.

It expresses their dire need for help. It reminds God of the shed blood and the groans of prisoners.

It appeals to God’s defence of his reputation. What will other nations think, there is no vergence? It calls down on the perpetrators 7 times what they have inflicted.

So it’s ok to tell God that life is not matching what was promised in the brochure.

The previous Psalms have had judgement and remembering the past blessings as themes. If this is the now, then it’s a bitter context.

It certainly makes my wistfulness at landing back into the literal and symbolic mess and complexity of home pretty minor. We had a really good holiday, I enjoyed the time with two of my kids (oldest, Lewes, stayed in Sydney… But he’s so complex, holidays don’t work with him).

I’ll move forward on the employment front, go back to work, and undertake a big task at church over the next month or so, moving the church offices. A big commitment of serious organisational input of the kind I often feel inadequate about, which needs to be done very well as part of our church’s long term to some very vulnerable people around where we live.

The challenges begin.

Let me stay connected and thoughtful about my children, let me listen and work with Kelly about what’s best for them and for us.

Let me appreciate how blessed I am, how without God’s ongoing love and mercy, so much could be gone and broken.

Let me shun evil.

Job 39

Parade of small mysteries.

Last chapter God went meta and mega: the stars, the start of time, the gates of death, the lowest depths, pouring out the sea and causing dawn to happen.

These mysteries were added to the mystery of Job’s own suffering.

Today God talks on the human scale, about things Job could conceivably understand. Man has dominion over the animals, right?

But even these things are outside Job’s comprehension or control.

Man can tame lions but not wild donkeys. Why? What sort of cosmic joke are the flightless wings of an ostrich, why did God do that? The reference to the ‘wild ox’ – now extinct – is a humorous image, like saying ‘why can’t you plough your fields with a hippopotamus?’ And so it goes.

It’s not the massive rebuke Job’s friends predicted God would have for him, nor does it directly address Job’s sense of injustice, as he craved.

These are gentle, delightful absurd teachings. The commentator suggested they represent the only humour in Job. Bringing a smile to his suffering face.

Even just that perspective is an implicit message… its not all about me.

While not answering directly Job’s questions, the oblique answer is that Job’s sense of injustice has misunderstood the rules by which the world works.

God isn’t angry or condemnatory about that, he expects it. He simply points it out in the gentlest sweetest way possible, and asks job to continue trusting him.

It goes right back to God and Satan’s disagreement over Job in the prologue. God says he’s an example of true wisdom, he fears God and shuns evil. The Devil says he is purely transactional, his ‘fear of God’ is only as deep as his love of the good things God has given him.

God’s teaching is bolstering his side of the case.

The lesson from the animals is two fold. Appreciate the limits of your own understanding. But also appreciate the God-like insight you have in being able to attain wisdom that animals never can.

They are indeed transactional, as the devil said man is. But we are made in God’s image. Job felt forgotten, but he’s cherished. In chapter 1 and 2, God actually brags about Job’s wisdom to Satan.

Man’s ability to attain wisdom means his conception of God is bigger than the source of his next meal. Job’s very tortured, complex heart is demonstration of that.

Job has gone further than most in understanding how little our own understanding can overcome evil, or reveal God. And God here leads him further again on that.

That Tim Minchin song I linked previously won’t stop rolling around in my head, showing how much I have in common with an atheist…

Family sharing white wine in the sun, the people who make you feel safe, his picture of heaven.

His jet-lagged baby daughter passed around ‘like a puppy at a primary school’ (makes me cry every time) …his picture of the infinite value of humanity.

We could both argue these values confirm the truth of our views, pushing us further apart when instead we share more than we think.

But God’s gentle refusal to buy into the paradigm of human logic and sense in this passage? There’s the rub!

Isaiah 34

The birds. There’s a creepy Alfred Hitchcock movie where the birds inexplicably take over an island.

Here is a vision vast and bleak.

It seems to lead on from the justice of the last chapter, the comforting thought that the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms will not last forever, will get their comeuppance.

While mentioning the neighbour Edom by name, this tells of judgement against the whole world.

It is for sin. We have a metaphor of God’s sword that generally requires sacrifice.

It is absolute, destruction is total and there are only birds left to divide the land amongst.

Sufjan Stevens likes to sing “we’re all going to die” perhaps there will be an end time tribulation, Armageddon. I hope not in my time.

But the curse of death is over us.

I’m more engaged with my church than I ever have been, so many opportunities for telling people the good news, but I am so shy of it.

God’s urgency/infinite time is doing my head in. This judgement passage is all crisis. But God will still take hundreds of years before Christ, so the crisis is not always temporal. The rich fool does not know the day or hour his life will be required of him.

Pray for wisdom. I have a sense that I am doing what i should be.  Pray for my kids!

Isaiah 29

Plan and meta plan. Disaster and recovery.

You think you have it bad, you forget God

Then God acts, and you wish you had it bad like you had it before, because now you realise you are on the wrong side of the universe.

And in that broken state, grace and mercy glimmer and become possible.

So it starts talking about a siege of Jerusalem, and then all the seiges.

Then how blind they are that they can’t see it is all God’s judgement.

He uses metaphors of double incomprehension.

So he says their concern about the seiges is like a hungry man dreaming of eating, and when they realise it’s God’s judgement will be like them waking up and realising they actually are hungry.

God’s truth is like a sealed book to them, and when the seal is broken they realise they can’t read.

I think this is written during the time of Hezekiah, which was like a pause before the final fall of Jerusalem. They use the time to practically prepare for the seige, like making a better water supply.

Isaiah’s message is that they desperately need to view their problems as spiritual. He describes their preparations as like clay saying to the potter “I’m the boss!” All the literal fortifications in the world won’t stop God.

It’s like a Matrix moment, they need to wake up from their dream of a life to realise they have no life, and only then can they start to learn what life is and start to find their way back.

Our pastor was taking about telling people about God this week, a subject that puts fear in my heart. I am the world’s least confronting person. It’s why I wrote this blog, all the things I find hard to say to my friends, to my family even. Maybe I need to see myself as cool like Morpheus in the matrix.

“Take the red pill.”

2 Kings 14

The Lord doesn’t let the culture and the land completely die, but by now Israel and Judah are hopelessly weak and average kingdoms.

They break the pattern of obedient Kings being blessed and evil Kings failing and having shorter reigns.

Amaziah is king in Judah, and he loves Jehovah. But, the writer sadly notes, not like David. He doesn’t move decisively against other religions. He has a bit of a victory, but then launches into a failure civil war and his successor has to rebuild.

The king of Israel is not a follower of Jehovah but wins the civil war and God is merciful to his son, restoring some of their prosperity and land.

The theological signficance of the kingship seems to be slipping away, and we are just getting reports of the waxing and waning of ordinary politics.

It’s depressing. You forget how much God can do with even a tiny amount of faith, you start to crave a tiny bit of faith.

Give me the faith to respond in unpredictable ways to the promptings your word and spirit father, and not live a life of transparently ordinary motivations.

Deuteronomy 30

Choose life. 

Moses’ sermon is reaching a climax and that phrase could be a two word summary of the book. 

I love his description of the law not being hard to reach, it is on their lips, in their hearts and in their choices. For me this describes the experience of positive Christian living, what you say and do reflecting your heart and vice versa.

Their consequences are clear, blessings and curses. They are to choose life. 

I’m going to try it out as a phrase to reach for when I need wisdom or guidance. Choose life.

Numbers 21

Now the Israelites are heading towards the holy land in earnest, Moses’ adventures remind me of Joshua (I peaked ahead and read that one already).

You have the confronting military aspect of God saying “go destroy this or that city, I’ve given them to you”. But god is acting in a sinful world. ┬áThe reaction of nations they pass through is to destroy them.

This is the chapter where the old fashioned doctor logo comes from, the snake on a stick. The people grumble, poisonous snakes start killing them. They put a snake in a stick and look at it for God’s protection.

God is so kind with signs. I mean the air we breathe, agriculture, hugs, I mean everything comes from God, the whole background. When we take all that for granted he gives us communion, the cross, Jesus, churches. Physical symbols to remind us of his existence and protection.

Grief is natural, revulsion of violence is natural. To say “why God why?” when either happens, is only natural. But really he is the only hope for life and the only source of peace.

Exodus 23

Lots more rules, but they are a bit interesting.

Starts with a section on kindness, fairness. There is an anti schadenfreude rule… Help an enemy with a problem, don’t just enjoy it.  Don’t go with the crowd, make your own judgements. A society built on love honesty and kindness.

Festivals are established. How many of gods, even Jesus few absolute behavioural commands, boil down to parties or gatherings. One festival for Passover and two for harvest (beginning and end) the rhythm of years, communal memory. Very important to God.

I like this God, hearts in the right place! 

Ends with a promises of protection for their nation in the promised land. Unfortunately I’ve already read judges, how it all panned out, one of the saddest books so far. He did protect them but they undermined him every step of the way until they were a very corrupt society that did not resemble this model at all.

We live in a world where these values still underpin us but are fading. Income inequity is accelerating. 

We are heading into Easter. Four days off, ought to be good, but the family is unhappy. Could use some grace and wisdom, feeling too harried for either.

Exodus 17

Victory over attackers – for precisely as long as Moses’ arms are lifted to God. Water from rock.

In genesis, after god did the biggest things: creation, the flood; he interacted on an intimate level, guiding and blessing individuals and families. Nurturing family trees.

In exodus he’s present daily, every moment forming a whole nation. You wince at their disloyalty when they complain of being thirsty, however they have given God 100% of their trust. They’ve wandered into the desert with no reliance on themselves for sustenance or planning. When do we ever do that?

I remember Larry Norman once talked about how easy it is to say you have faith in God as long as you have enough for a big Mac in your pocket.

Every physical act God does doubles as a powerful metaphor of his character for the ages. Freedom from slavery. Daily bread.

Today water from rock. One of my favourite phrases for God is “author of life”. The abundance, essential for life, flowing from dry stone at the touch of God. After a week of death, remembering that God’s is life.