Friday, May 21, 2021

Whoso is wise

Psalm 107 is among my favorite chapters. It ends with an interesting command: "Whoso is wise, let him observe these things, and let them understand the loving-kindnesses of Jehovah" (Psalm 107:43). I realize this is Old Testament, and we're not under the Law, etc. But I still can't help but think this one is "for us" in some sense. If we're wise – or perhaps even if we understand we're not wise, but we want to change that – we need to observe "these things" and learn to understand that loving-kindnesses of the Lord.

In my small Bible, I have a note on this verse, marking it as a "God's ways" verse. There is a theme in Scripture about God's ways, and a general invitation that we should try to learn them. God's ways, we are told, are completely different from – and infinitely superior to – our ways (Isaiah 55:8–9). We don't naturally think like God, and when we get a glimpse of His thoughts and we get a sense of His ways, we tend to find them offensive, repugnant, and foolish. And that's not just an Old Testament truth, the New Testament makes the same claim (1 Corinthians 3:18–23).

The Pharisees were offended that Christ would receive sinners and eat with them (Luke 15:1–2). Of course they didn't realize that His ultimate goal was not merely to eat with sinners, but to give His flesh to them to eat, and His blood to them to drink (John 6:48–58). The Pharisees didn't understand the half of it! 

And if we go back to Isaiah 55:8–9 and read it in context (Isaiah 55:6–10), we realize that God's declaration about His ways being better and higher and superior to our own was made in the context that He forgives sinners. God does what we naturally think of as foolish: He forgives sinners freely, regardless how badly or how frequently they sin. Only let the sinner return to the Lord, and He entirely forgives and forgets their sins (Micah 7:18–19).

And this, I suppose, is one of the reasons I keep railing about "-isms". Whether Calvinism, or Arminianism, or Dispensationalism... take any "-ism" you like, and you'll find it comes up short. All those "-isms" are attempts to understand God's ways, but they all come up short, because we're not God. Of course the problem is that all those "-isms" capture some of the truth, but they all end up going off the rails eventually, because they eventually try and fill in some of the gaps in Scripture. And try as they might, they have nothing to fill those gaps with except men's thoughts. And even the best men can't think like God. 

And I don't think they're wrong to try. I really don't, but I do think we're wrong when we start to allow our "-isms" to come between us and Scripture. I do think we're wrong when we try to explain away those pesky verses instead of admitting that Scripture is authoritative and our understanding of it is not. And I am entirely sure that "I am of Calvin" or "I am of Luther" is no better than "I am of Paul" or "I am of Apollos" (1 Corinthians 3:1–7).

So we understand that our ways are not God's ways. But let's not stop there: we are invited to contemplate God's ways. We're invited to observe His ways. The old preachers used to point out that God showed Moses His ways, but He only showed the children of Israel His acts (Psalm 103:7). Maybe they read too much into that verse, but I suspect there's something to that. Maybe it's just that Moses was looking past those individual acts of God to try and understand the bigger principles behind them. That would seem to be what Moses was asking for on Sinai (Exodus 33:11–13).

The Lord Jesus made the remarkable claim, "I am the Way" (John 14:6). On the surface this would seem to indicate He is how to get to the Father, but it seems to me that there is something deeper there. The Old Testament is full of invitations to learn God's ways, and here is a Man who is claiming that He is the embodiment of that. If we want to learn God's ways, we can contemplate Christ.

God invites us (Psalm 107:43) to "observe these things." It seems to me that one of our greatest failings is the tendency to try and move too quickly when we look into the Scriptures. I don't mean that we go through at too great a pace, but we don't allow ourselves time for things to sink in. We don't observe, contemplate, or meditate like we ought when we look into Scripture. It's like we try to eat by gulping down, but we should be chewing and savoring. We need to slow down and let ourselves be affected by the words that God has spoken.

I was listening to a sermon recently where someone was working through the second half of Romans 13. I was all excited to hear what he would say about Romans 13:11, but all he said was, "Salvation happens in three tenses in Scripture: we have been saved, we are being saved, and we shall be saved." Then he went to the next verse.

That sort of thing gets under my skin. When we have "pat answers" to complex issues in Scripture, they act like little vaccines against truth. It's like we allow a small amount of truth into our systems so that we can build up a resistance to the full-on truth of Scripture. We inoculate ourselves against truth.

There is a value to pausing to let Scripture speak to us. There is a value to wrestling with the text, rather than looking for a "pat answer" so that we don't have to. Instead, we act like the most important thing is to have some sort of internal commentary to explain away every verse: some sort of "pat answer" to give, so we won't be dismayed when our intellect doesn't measure up. It's like we fear the very worst thing that can happen is for people who don't have answers to leave the faith... instead of fearing that they never get answers, but cover their hunger for truth with unsatisfying truisms.

Well, I am not a very wise person: I'm neither very smart nor very good. So I suppose you should take my advice as being worth precisely what it costs you... but it seems to me that it's better to slow down, contemplate what God has said, and treat the text like every word was breathed by Him than coming up with programmed responses we can toss out with very little thought whenever someone might [hypothetically] ask.


HandWrittenWord said...

Mark -

I absolutely could not agree with you more.
Excellent post!

Robert said...

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counseller?

Written by the man who was given ‘an abundance of revelation’.