Monday, November 24, 2014

Sweeter Than Honey

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world…

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;

the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Psalm 19: 1-4, 7-10

Reflection – Monday Psalter time again, and again we have a psalm that is too long to include in its entirety. Psalm 19, many of the scholars argue, is actually two psalms combined into one. There is a marked change in rhythm, vocabulary, and subject matter half way through that seems to indicate some kind of stitching together of diverse source material.

The first section is all about the heavens declaring the glory of God, the beauty of creation, and specifically of the sun running its course each day through the sky ‘like a bridegroom, a champion’. There is a rapturous joyous tone to this, the very structure of creation ‘pouring out speech’ about the greatness of God, while remaining utterly silent all the while.

The second section is equally joyous and rapturous in its praise of the law of God, its sweetness and goodness. Sweeter than honey are the commandments of God. I have always loved the Jewish feast of Simchat Torah, ‘Rejoicing in the Law’, where the men dance with the Torah scrolls and there is much jubilation and bucolic festivity.

So different from our typical modern attitude to the law. We agree, with deep heaving sighs and much frowning, that God does indeed have authority in our lives. God (sigh…) does indeed have a right (pout…) to tell us what we can and cannot do (sniff…). Since we don’t want to go to Hell (boo hoo…), we have to do what he tells us (humph). And so we can go, the reluctant son in the parable who doesn’t much want to do the father’s will but reluctantly goes about it, and so somehow manages some kind of half-hearted obedience.

This is so very different from the proper Jewish sense of the Law, and this psalm—both halves of it—give a welcome and much needed corrective to our modern anomic and rebellious spirit. God’s laws are good—this is the main thing. The moral life is the good life. Sin is bad, harmful, death-dealing to ourselves and others. Virtue and moral living are sweet and beneficent. And it all springs from this ordered and beautiful creation which rapturously tells us of the beauty and goodness of God—his glory.

In light of this psalm, if we really take it to heart, of course we should dance and sing and be radiantly happy when we read the laws of God, the moral commandments. God has shown us how to live in such a way that our lives declare the glory of God just as creation’s beauty does. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t God good to us, to show us the path to a beautiful life, a truly good life?

And yes, this path may (and indeed does) involve sacrifice, struggle, effort on our part. If morality was a law in the same sense that gravity is a law, He wouldn’t have needed to teach it to us (you don’t need to teach a stone to fall). It is a law in that it is the assured and certain way that our lives become glorious and not tragic, a living life and not a living death.

It’s all in Psalm 19, and we need this psalm and those like it to keep us in that vision of moral law and life, the wisdom, joy, and light of God expressed in our humanity for his glory.

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