Saturday, January 12, 2013

Psalm 111

I studied Psalm 111 for my weekly quiet time.  Psalm 111 concludes by saying, "The fear of the LORD [is] the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do [his commandments]: his praise endureth for ever" (King James Version).

How does the fear of the LORD lead to wisdom, according to Psalm 111?  Wisdom includes people doing what is conducive to their own self-interest.  That's why wisdom literature, such as the Book of Proverbs, tells readers that those who fear God and do the right thing will experience prosperity, whereas those who behave unwisely or wickedly are hurting themselves.  There is an appeal to self-interest there.
According to Psalm 111, people act according to their own self-interest when they fear the LORD.  The reason is that God is active in the world, rewards people according to their commitment to God's covenant, and provides for those who fear him.  The Psalmist appeals to God's activity in history (i.e., giving Israel the land of the Canaanites) to validate such points.  Why should we fear the LORD, according to Psalm 111?  Because God is on the winning side, and we will be be among the winners, too, if we side with God.

But what's important is not just that God acts, as if we should fear the LORD just because he is bigger and stronger than we are.  Rather, God acts, not arbitrarily, but righteously and with honor.  And God created the world to reflect God's righteousness, which may be at least part of what v 7 means when it affirms that "The works of his hands [are] verity and judgment; all his commandments [are] sure."  When one obeys God, one is acting in accordance with the cosmos.  Sin, however, results in chaos and is ultimately self-destructive to those who practice it.  Wisdom entails a regard for one's own well-being, and the fear of the LORD is partially a recognition that God is powerful and thus we should do what God says for things to go well with us.  But there is much more to wisdom and the fear of the LORD than that: there is an adoration of God on account of God's righteousness, and wisdom entails us partaking of what is beautiful, tried, and true.

I detailed some of my problems with a "reward and punishment" view of God's activity in the world, as well as the belief that the biblical commandments are tried and true, in my post here, which concerns Psalm 12.  In terms of my own faith, though, I take the following from Psalm 111 as I attempt to apply it to my own life:

----There is a God who acts righteously, even though there are many times when God appears to be silent.  In the end, good will prevail.

----Overall, when people behave righteously, society is better off than it would be were most people to behave wickedly.  You know the old saying: "There's no honor among thieves."  Thus, as Psalm 111 affirms, there is a sense in which God's precepts are true and permanent.

----There is something beautiful about righteousness.  If you want to regard righteousness as conformity to rules, then I don't think that's entirely wrong, for one can look at God's laws and profitably seek to discern what is orderly and wholesome about them.  But righteousness is not just conformity to rules.  It includes God's passionate love for us.  If you are a Christian, you most likely include in that love God's act of self-sacrifice in Jesus Christ.

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