December 2, 2012

You senseless, ignorant, brute beast, you!

(That is how you title a blog about a Psalm.)

I started reading the Psalms a long time ago, checking off all 150 of them (and the 30ish Proverbs) twice a year. It works out nicely and it's a good habit, but if I'm going to be honest, I find a lot of them hard to read and I prefer the short ones. Reading them in order means I don't necessarily get the sad ones when I'm sad, or the happy-praisey ones when I'm abundantly joyful. (Maybe that's for the best?) I can't totally relate (yet) to having mobs of enemies chasing me down, or wetting my bed with tears, or the heart-wrenching betrayal of a good friend. To my untrained eyes and mind, lots of them seem indistinguishable, and often I read them out of duty, not the passion or curiosity I ought to read them with.

But every now and then, one of them will grab me by the collar and punch me in the face, as God's Word often does. This is what happened with Psalm 73. [Hey, I conveniently linked it so you can read it if you want. It's not too long, I swear.]

Asaph wrote it. He confesses some surprising stuff for a guy who penned part of the Bible. "Why do the bad guys get to have all the fun?" he asks. They're a bunch of nasty, proud dudes, and they get all the perks, and they never get any comeuppance. They're carefree and violent, they put people down and take advantage of them, and they scoff at God, and they get rich doing it. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure these sorts still exist today.

Poor Asaph: He's worked and worked and kept his standards and remained pure and fought the good fight and everything, and what has it bought him? Plague and Punishment.

"Life is rough, I tell ya, so rough..."
"How rough is it?"
"So rough I almost betrayed God's children by speaking my mind!"

Okay, so Asaph's no Rodney Dangerfield. But he's presented his issue - he's starting to feel this jealousy of the bad dudes coming on, and he juuuuust about speaks his mind but stops short. To do so, it seems, would have been an act of betrayal that bordered on blasphemy.

Good on him for not doing it though. He came to his senses. "I almost slipped, lost my foothold" he says to kick off the Psalm. At least he has a foothold, right? And he remembers - these bad dudes are set for destruction. For real.

So he realizes his error. Maybe the only thing more foolish than someone without understanding is someone who has it, but envies someone who doesn't have it. Asaph caught himself doing that and stopped short. The Israelites couldn't often say the same. I dare say I'm not so prudent, either.

"It ain't worth it, man," Asaph seems to realize.

And here's the part that really clocked me: Verses 21 and 22: "When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant, a brute beast before you."

A Biblical writer, calling himself senseless, ignorant, a brute beast. In God's presence.


That's not how I want to picture myself in front of God. I'm working hard to be pure, to obey Him. I'm a good Christian, aren't I? I want so badly to picture myself with dignity before Him.

But nobody approaches the throne with dignity, do they? When you stand before God, it's all gone. Nothing left. Filthy rags and all that. I've got nothing of my own to stand on.

A big, dumb, senseless, ignorant, brute beast really isn't a bad metaphor for a human in front of God. Like a cow with a vacant stare, but without its strength or delicious meat.

Undignified, like David - who voluntarily let his dignity go when he danced in the buff.

But what follows is beautiful: Even as a senseless beast, "You hold my hand," Asaph says, "and guide me, and take me into glory." Lest there be any doubt, even in that undignified state, we serve a good and loving God. We have the advocacy of Christ on the cross.

That's a comforting thought.

Though the evildoers prosper around him, "Earth has nothing I desire, but you" Asaph says. May it be the same for me.

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