Monday, January 5, 2015

Chthonic Phlebotomized Syzygy - Or The Point of Success in Life

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble.
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and give you support from Zion.
May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices.

May he grant you your heart's desire
and fulfill all your plans.
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners.
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.

O Lord, save the king!
May he answer us when we call.
Psalm 20
Reflection – Well, reviving the Monday Psalter here with a new psalm for the new year. Tying this in to the blog’s new theme of ‘getting to the point’, it seems to me that the ‘point’ of this psalm, both the intention it is moving towards and the central truth it circles around, is a very simple and straightforward one. And yet, perhaps one we can easily miss the point of, or go off point on if we are not vigilant.

Namely, that success comes from the Lord. Success does not come from physical strength, cleverness of intellect, comeliness, personal charm, wiles, or a really cool Kickstarter campaign. The essential biblical revelation—indeed, a large portion of the Old Testament is dedicated to this theme—is that success comes from the Lord.

In the earlier stage of revelation, this is shown by God giving the smaller army, the weaker tribe, the disadvantaged peoples triumph over their foes. This is not unlike the way we spell out the alphabet in a kindergarten class with foot-tall letters in bright primary colors, with pictures of apples, bees, and cats. One does not start teaching children to read with words like phlebotomy, syzygy, and chthonic.

But of course in the normal course of things physical strength and strategic wiles do lead to victory in battle, intelligence, charm, and good funding do lead to prosperity, physical beauty and charm to social and romantic achievements.

And if you call those things ‘success’, then yes, perhaps success is only indirectly from the Lord who distributes those gifts in the first place. But—and here comes the ‘chthonic phlebotimized syzygy’, so to speak—that is not what we consider success.

Success for a Christian can have and must have only one meaning—to live as Christ lived, which means to live in Christ’s heart and allow him to transform our hearts into his. If we believe what we say we believe (the words of the Creed we profess each Sunday), there is no other measure by which to measure what a successful human life looks like. Wealth and social standing, physical beauty and pleasure, even the love and affection of family and friends—all of this passes away left to its own natural rhythms. It is only caught up into the mystery of Christ and become a sharer in the victory of Christ over death that our lives and everything in them are made fruitful not just for a few years of fleeting time, but for eternity.

And success is from the Lord. It is God who gives it, not we who achieve it. God who works it, not human strength or human cleverness. A work of grace, and only in a tertiary and ancillary fashion a work of human beings. If we miss this—what success is in the first place, and how to attain it in the second—we are already off on a bad foot, already missing the point and unlikely to attain it.

Psalm 20 keeps us roundly, thoroughly, utterly focussed on the point, and on what we need to do to attain it, and that is a very simple thing. We need to ask. “Ask, and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened,” (Matt 7:7). And asking, desire it. And desiring it, trust that the Lord desires it. And from all that, choose here and now, today, to do what a ‘successful’ person would do (i.e. live and love as Christ, best you can). And that, my brothers and sisters, is the point.

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