Sunday, May 15, 2005

Psalm 73

Yesterday I was at The Northern Men’s Convention in Manchester. Its theme was ‘men prepared to give an answer’, which translated meant ‘evangelism’. It was refreshing to listen to some different preachers, from a slightly different stream of evangelicalism, to those of my own church. The convention’s aim is to encourage men to live more for Christ, and it certainly did encourage me to do that. A particularly thought-provoking talk was given by Hugh Palmer who is currently vicar of Christ Church Fulwood (Sheffield) but moving soon to All Souls, Langham Place (John Stott‘s stomping ground). He spoke on Psalm 73, which, being not the most obvious evangelism passage to preach from, got my attention from the first. In the psalm the writer recounts how he doubted if it was worth following YHWH when what he observed about how the wicked prospered seemed suggest it was not.
For I was envious of the arrogant  when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death;   their bodies are fat and sleek. (v. 3-4)
After recounting how the wicked act, and yet how they prosper in some more detail he explicitly states his feelings on the matter:
All in vain have I kept my heart clean  and washed my hands in innocence. (v. 13)
But almost immediately tells us that if he had articulated these same feelings at that time (at least in that way) he would be doing terrible damage to the faith of others.
If I had said, "I will speak thus,"  I would have betrayed the generation of your children. (v. 15)
I do not think I have been untrue to my brothers and sisters in Christ in this way, although in the past I have come quite close. I have expressed my big doubts but I believe I have always made clear that they are as much my problem as a problem with Christianity, and with my ‘small’ doubts about particular doctrines (e.g. inerrancy/infallibility which I still struggle with) I have tried to keep my personal God in the picture at all times. Jesus Christ and others will judge how well I have managed to do that. Whatever it is certainly keeping this psalmist’s experience in mind. Hugh Palmer also pointed out how the psalmist revived his faith by entering the sanctuary of God, and then by trusting in the future judgement of the Lord. Which needs some thinking about in my opinion. I mean how does entering the sanctuary of God help? and help it clearly did not just for this psalmist but many others. Did it help by just reminding them of God and his character (his holiness etc.), by reminding them of the sacrifices being made on their behalf, a combination of the two, or something else? The psalm ends with a God-exalting contrast to the writers earlier problem of teetering on the edge betraying his fellow children of God with blasphemous speech.
But for me it is good to be near God;   I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,   that I may tell of all your works. (v.28)
He recalls and tells others what YHWH has done, and how it really is ‘good to be near God’ despite appearances. Lord, I pray that having heard of your gospel about Jesus, and so knowing even more than this writer about the promise of judgement, and what you have been prepared to do for us all, that I will not slip as the psalmist nearly did, but make you a refuge, and tell everyone I know of what you did on Calvary.


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