February 12, 2019

Standards of Conduct

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Ps. 139:21-24 

As beautifully harmonic as Psalm 139 is, it comes close to ending on a dissonant chord. There's too much hatred in verses 21-22, and it's hard to allow for it. I'm not supposed to hate. I try to avoid it. And if I take it to God, it's to ask for forgiveness—not to present it to God as a gift, like a cat dropping a dead mouse at its master's feet. I looked at the original Hebrew, hoping for another interpretation of an ambiguous verb. And maybe it helps a little to know that שָׂנֵא could mean either hate or abhor. To have an abhorrence for something seems more visceral, less voluntary. It almost seems to be more of a reaction than an emotion.

I can make allowances for the psalmist's hatred/abhorrence—they hate those who hate God, so it's not selfish hatred. It's holy hatred, right? But I look around me in the world today and see all the people who hate others whom they accuse of hating God... but who, in reality, simply don't agree with their theology. So that explanation does nothing to make me feel better about vv. 21-22.

What does help me a little are vv. 23-24. Because here we see that at least the psalmist is no hypocrite. Just as they've judged others harshly, they're holding themselves up to divine judgment. "As I hate the wicked in their way, so would I hate every wicked way in myself"—this is Spurgeon's paraphrase. Not all that uplifting, but at least not inconsistent. It's good to know that whatever it is the psalmist is reacting to in others, it causes the same reaction when they see it in their own life.

But more importantly than showing that the psalmist is a person of integrity, the last two verses get the psalm back on track. After many verses of proclaiming the height and depth of God's knowledge, the psalmist prays for God's scrutiny as well as for God's correction. And the final prayer is that God will lead them along the right path—the one that leads to eternity.

May I admit to God my negative reactions to others, no matter how righteous I think they are. And may I never fail to hold myself to the same standards to which I hold others.

This reminds me of a beautiful prayer: 

Oh Father in heaven, who didst fashion my limbs to serve thee and my soul to follow hard after thee, with sorrow and contrition of heart I acknowledge before thee my faults and failures. Too long, O Father, have I tried thy patience; too often have I betrayed the sacred trust thou hast given me to keep; yet thou art still willing that I should come to thee in lowliness of heart, as now I do, beseeching thee to drown my transgressions in the sea of thine own infinite love.

My failure to be true even to my own accepted standards;
My self-deception in the face of temptation;
My choosing of the worse when I know the better—
     O Lord, forgive.

My failure to apply to myself the standards of conduct I demand of others;
My blindness to the suffering of others and my slowness to be taught by my own;
My complacency towards wrongs that do not touch my own case and my over-sensitiveness to those that do;
My slowness to see the good in my fellows and to see the evil in myself;
My hardness of heart towards my neighbors' faults and my readiness to make allowance for my own;
My unwillingness to believe that thou hast called me to a small work and my brother or sister to a great one—
     O Lord, in Jesus' Name, forgive. Amen.
 John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer (alt.) 

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