Friday, September 28, 2018

Misperception

I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.
His line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun.
It shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies.

But now you have spurned and rejected him; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
Ps 89:34-39
This section of the 89th Psalm I would list as one of the problems with reading the psalms in the first place. How can this be considered scripture when it so obviously contradicts itself. On the one hand, God promises never to break a promise, and this promise not to break a promise is followed immediately by—at least from the viewpoint of the psalmist—the breaking of the promise.

And yet this very perception of a promise broken is, in reality, all the more reason to pray the psalms. It is precisely this honest reaction that gives me permission to pour out my heart to God—even if my heart is overreacting or my perception is mistaken.

And there are actually at least two ways that verses 38-39 (and several more that follow them) are based on a misperception.
  1. First, when first Israel, then Judah fell to foreign invaders, it necessarily looked like either God broke a promise, or that God was too weak to keep the promise. But the psalmist was unable to see how the divine promise would, in fact, be kept. And as a Christian, I believe that the promise preceding verse 38 was kept in Jesus Christ.
  2. Which brings up another possibility for misunderstanding. What if the anointed mentioned in verse 38 and the servant mentioned in verse 39 is, in fact, Jesus? Certainly the cross seemed like rejection, and Christ's burial a defiling of his crown in the dust. And yet, both the cross and the tomb stand empty today, because God was, in fact, able to keep covenant—in a much more powerful way than ever the writer of this psalm could have imagined.
And so in my prayers, the psalms teach me that it's okay to pour out my heart to God, even if I'm angry with God or questioning God. But they also teach me that my perception is subject to my very human limitations. And God's promises were never made to me alone, but also to people who will live long after I'm gone. Abraham did not live to see his descendants become as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach. Yet today there are billions of people who believe in the God who was revealed to him. And so may I never forget to pray, but may I also never forget that my prayers are not based on an omniscience I can call my own.

Teach me to pray the difficult prayers, Lord. But may my prayers that are based on the small picture lead me to an understanding of the big picture. I pray them in the Name of Jesus Christ who taught me to pray...

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