Monday, August 31, 2009

Wonderful Things

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me.

                        Psalm 119.18-19

New to These Parts

John Carpenter’s Starman (1984) casts Jeff Bridges as an alien who crashes to Earth and assumes the identity of Karen Allen’s deceased husband. He coerces her to drive him to Arizona, where he’ll rendezvous with a homeward bound ship. They travel for a while before he asks to drive. She doesn’t like the idea. He assures her he’s watched her closely to learn the rules. It appears he has, until he tries to beat a red light and causes a multi-car collision. “You said you watched me, you said you knew the rules!” she yells. He calmly replies, “I do know the rules.” She disputes this. “Oh, for your information, pal, that was a yellow light back there.” Still unruffled, he answers, “I watched you very carefully. Red light: stop. Green light: go. Yellow light: go very fast.”

An element of Starman rings through Psalm 119.19: “I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me.” Like the Starman, the psalmist is also new to these parts. Instead of learning from human example, though, he/she seeks guidance in God’s Word. There’s a note of concern here, an alertness of how easily what God says will get lost if we base our lives on what others do. His Word says, “Proceed with caution.” They misread it to mean "go very fast." That yellow-light mentality is what distinguishes God’s way from ours. He shapes His instructions to keep us from harm and causing harm. In return, we stretch His Word to suit our agenda. We live as recklessly as we can inside His limits on the premise they’re there to save us from punishment. But keeping us out of Hell isn’t the purpose behind God’s standards. They’re meant to teach us how to please Him and fulfill His purpose, i.e., the most pleasing, fulfilling way to live. “Your statutes are my delight,” the psalmist writes in verse 42. “They are my counselors.” It’s because the psalmist feels like an outsider that he/she puts complete faith in what God says, not what people do.

Gnats and Camels

In Matthew 23, Jesus issues seven woes to religious leaders of His day, charging them as hypocrites who uphold the Law in principle but contradict it in practice. He accuses them of exclusion, dereliction, erroneous doctrine, injustice, self-indulgence, impurity, and false piety. Near the middle of His sermon, Jesus says, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (v24) He’s citing the same kind of yellow-light thinking that caused car accidents in Starman. In Christ’s time, pious Jews strained their wine through finely woven cloth to catch gnats that fell in the vats. They were unclean and not to be digested. Camels, the largest animals in Palestine, also were unclean, yet Jesus says the Pharisees and lawyers’ obsession with filtering out tiny Scriptural points to condemn others made them gullible to grossly foul ideas. Thus, when we hear the psalmist pray, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law,” he/she is asking for perspective to find the beauty and wisdom of God’s ways without being blinded by gnats or force-fed camels.

The Bible swarms with gnats, especially in the Old Testament, where clouds of them circulate in detailed protocols, genealogies, and prophecies. Indeed, they get so thick in Leviticus and Numbers they blind us to God’s reasons for dictating such minute directions to the Hebrews. And make no mistake: wherever we find gnats, camels are lurking nearby. Gnats feed on camels’ filth and infiltrate their payloads. They annoy and distract and make everyone miserable. When we stumble across anyone preoccupied with Scriptural gnats, we should leave quickly and politely. We have no patience with gnats, nor any stomach for camels. Like the psalmist, we want to see wonderful things in God’s Word. Gnats and camels hide the beauty of His commands.

Open Seven Days a Week

Gnats and camels notwithstanding, Scripture flows cover-to-cover with wonderful things. They’re pure, nourishing, and easily digested. If we approach God’s Word as anything less than His message to us, however, our eyes will remain closed to much of its wealth. The stories will read like history, the miracles like fairy tales, the Psalms like prose poems, the Proverbs like self-help, the prophets like sci-fi, the Gospels like biography, and the epistles like philosophy—all of them first-rate, but none intended to be appreciated solely on literary merits. Further down, in verse 105, the psalmist pens the best description ever written of the Bible’s real value: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” When we come to it with open hearts and minds, our eyes open to wonderful things. It lights our path to hidden beauty and wisdom. It protects us from being swayed by those who devalue its precepts by speeding through yellow lights and straining out gnats. But we’ll discover none of these treasures if our Bibles stay closed until we cart them off to Sunday service. To experience all the wonderful things God’s Word offers, we open it seven days a week. It lights our way.

Many Christians recklessly stretch God’s guidelines to suit their purposes. He says, “Proceed with caution;” they go very fast.

(Tomorrow: Parents Need Our Prayers)


Anonymous said...

(o o)
What a terrific simile, Tim! I feel like standing up and clapping--well done.

Tim said...

Thanks, Missy! Been there, done that--literally and metaphorically!