Monday, February 9, 2015

What Is At Stake

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
Psalm 25: 14

Reflection – For the Monday Psalter this week, I just want to focus on this one verse from Psalm 25. Not because the rest of the psalm is uninteresting or unimportant, but because this particular psalm does mostly contain themes that we have well covered in this column; meanwhile, this particular verse has one word that I would like to reflect on.

That is the word translated here as ‘friendship’. In other translations, it is rendered ‘the secret’ of the Lord. The Hebrew word is sod, (rhymes with toad), and is one of the genuinely beautiful words of the Bible. It refers to being part of the intimate inner circle of something, being in the confidence of a person, being part of their closest and most trusted group of friends. You could translate it ‘the intimacy of the Lord,’ along with the other translations that have been chosen.

This is such a beautiful word, and a beautiful reality to meditate on. The sod YHWH, the intimate confidence, trusted friendship of God is offered to us. God is not ‘up there’, somehow, in the sense of being far, far away. God is not at a distance from us. He is above and beyond us, but He draws very close.

Furthermore, this intimacy with God is given to those who ‘fear’ Him. This is counter to what we might expect in our modern sensibility. Fear, as we understand it, leads us to distance ourselves from the one who is feared. Fear makes you keep your distance. People who are afraid of God may pray to Him (so as not to be struck down by Him, I guess) but are not going to count Him as an intimate companion. So we think, but we think wrongly.

The fear of the Lord is not, biblically, ‘being afraid of God’. It is, rather, the fear that comes from loving God. Any lover understands this. Fear enters into our lives when we love. When you love, you fear losing the beloved. When you love, suddenly your world is not only about yourself and your narrow sphere of concern—there is this whole other person whose happiness is important to you, who you are afraid of displeasing, of disappointing, of alienating. Once you fall in love, or genuinely begin to love another person, your life is not your own any longer.

The fear of the Lord is that which enters our hearts when we actually begin to love the Lord. And loving Him, begin to conform our hearts to Him, to seek to live and love and choose in a way that is pleasing to Him. And what comes from this love and this choice is genuine intimacy with Him, friendship with God, knowing His secrets.

I don’t want to harp on about euthanasia over and over on this blog, but it does strike me powerfully that the decision we have just made in Canada to reject the fifth commandment, to decide that we can indeed ‘kill’ if and when we please, indicates a great loss of fear of the Lord in our society. We simply think that we know better, and so we will do as we please in this matter and in all matters. We know that God said ‘thou shalt not kill’. We don’t care.

And in this, we lose the friendship of God. We lose our closeness to Him. We become, alas for us, enemies of God. And this is a great tragedy, of course, for us personally and for our nation. Between our choice to kill the unwanted unborn and now the burdensome elderly, I don’t think Canada has much of a future, really, barring some great communal act of repentance.

God offers us something that is so far beyond what we can achieve ourselves or imagine to be possible. I don’t think we really understand what this sod YHWH is, you know. To be intimate with God, to be friends with God, to be in the inner circle of the life of the Trinity—this is astounding.

This is the answer to death and to suffering, to sorrow and loss, to pain and grief. This is the way through this world of ours, so marked by beauty and marred by ugly affliction. To fear the Lord, to know that the love of God is the first good, the greatest goal, the ‘one thing necessary’ in life, and that all other loves and goods are to be ordered by that first good. And in that, to enter this mysterious beautiful intimacy with God. And in that, ultimately, to triumph over death and evil, and come to the place of light and life forever.

And this is what is at stake, ultimately, in these great and tragic questions of our time, in Canada and elsewhere. ‘The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and he makes known to them his covenant.’

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