Archive for August, 2012

Law as a Love and Paradise

Posted in Uncategorized on August 27, 2012 by ancienthopes

What do you think of Psalm 119? A very knowledgeable teacher of mine, a master of Hebrew and ancient languages, considered it “boring and repetitious.” A great German Lutheran Old Testament Scholar considered this Psalm “a particularly artificial product of religious poetry … a many colored mosaic of thoughts which are often repeated in wearisome fashion” (Weiser). But, we must ask, is something wrong with the psalm or something wrong with us? Consider Augustine ─ when commenting on the Psalms, he skipped it at first “because as often as I began to reflect on it, it always exceeded the utmost stretch of my powers. For in proportion as it seems more open, so much the more deep it appears to me; so that I cannot show how deep it is.”

In our last post we talked about the paradox of attitudes in vv. 1-8, a passion/boldness with deep distrust of self (vv. 5, 8). But consider v. 44 where we see juxtaposed two seemingly contrary ideas, freedom and law! The word “torah” comes from a word that means “to teach.” The ancients associated God’s law (teachings, instructions) with order. All things were made in the context of creation with boundaries and the order boundaries bring. If we look at the Garden of Eden it was made with a physical boundary to protect paradise from the chaos surrounding it, but also moral/spiritual boundaries to protect paradise from moral and spiritual chaos. By definition chaos is that which is without boundaries. Only God, who fills all things, can live comfortably without boundaries. We as creatures need boundaries, both physical and moral, to thrive.

Think of it! There was law in the garden with the prohibition concerning the Tree of Good and Evil, law with the patriarchs (Gen. 17:1 18:19, 22:18) law with Moses, and there is law in the NT. If we count the commands and consider what is expected of Christians, we see that there is far more law and higher expectations in the Gospel than there was in the Old Testament (Matt. 5:48)! In fact, Jesus is the very Law of God, the Incarnate Word living in us though the Holy Spirit, and therefore we are empowered to be the obedient people the law always envisioned. Finally, there will be law in heaven, for by definition paradise is law, is order! I use to wonder why the Holy City described in Revelation had massive, high walls. After all, why would there be a need for protection when sin and evil had been destroyed? Then I found the answer; we were made for boundaries; we cannot be God and be happy! All the unhappiness of our dark age can be traced to one thing ─ a rejection of law and boundaries.

Law in its purest expression is obedience. Obedience is the cheerful submission of will to God. Submission of will is expressed in selflessness. Selflessness is love. The inevitable conclusion is that the law is love. Jesus says, “if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…” (John 14:10). There is no real conflict between faith and law either. Consider Bonhoeffer’s famous cry: “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes” Cost of Discipleship, p. 69.

“Oh How I Love Your law!”

Posted in Uncategorized on August 13, 2012 by ancienthopes

It is at this time of the month of August that I find myself struggling with conflicting feelings. On one hand, I am always sad when summer comes to an end. On the other hand, being an academic, I always associate the approach of September with a sort of rejuvenation, for courses begin, and the bright prospects of learning present themselves. It is with this last sentiment that I start up a new series of posts that I expect will go well into the fall. The topic is that of law. The Psalmist gushes out “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). Now there are some of you that can say, with all honesty, that this is true of you. Praise God! If so, you are swimming upstream against a strong antinomian current in our culture. “Antinomian” means “against the law.” We see it in our secular culture that wishes to throw away all restraints to self gratification. As I watch as much as I could without getting sick the closing ceremony to the Olympics last night, it struck me that our world culture is adolescent. It glories in its mindless self adulation, flaunting restraint. It is adolescent to rebel against law and right reason.

We see it also, however, seeping in our churches. The Reformation cries of “sola fidei/sola gratia” (only by faith/only by grace) has degenerated into cheap and thoughtless slogans. In many of the places in the Church, Marcionism has won the day. Marcion was a 2nd century heretic that condemned the Old Testament, and especially the law, and embraced only a gospel of love, and especially St. Paul’s epistles taken completely out of context. Very few Christians would boldly condemn the OT Testament nowadays, but many, out of neglect and ignorance, are virtual marcionites. They do not live by deep meditation on the whole of council of God, embracing both the Old Testament with its law and the New Testament, but in a superficial bubble of grace that sanctions their own spiritual listlessness and moral malaise. Every once in a while we hear someone mention the famous title by Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Cheap Grace,” but the cultural tide is too strong─law and human responsibility is out, and cheap grace has won the day.

A good start for understanding how the Bible would have us understand law would be to mediate on Psalm 119. One scholar said this concerning this glorious Psalm; it is “the paradox of seeming simplicity overlaying fathomless depth.” Look at the first section (vv. 1-8). Consider the paradox of attitudes here. On one hand we have such exuberance over the law and the Psalmist’s commitment to keep it. Yet, there are two prayers in it that throw the soul completely on God and His grace: “Oh that my ways were directed to keep your statues,” and “Oh, do not forsake me utterly” (vv. 5 and 8). Here we have a boldness and commitment to God’s law and a deep dependence on God and His grace to sustain this boldness and commitment. If you look at each section of this acrostic poem (structured around the Hebrew alphabet), you will see the same paradox throughout. Profundity of thought and life happens with a commitment to embrace seemingly contrasting positions of a paradox. We then see that there really is no irresolvable conflict between law and grace; these are but two realities that are melded together in what the Bible would call a truly just/righteous person. If you have the time this week, go ahead, revel in Psalm 119. What a joy the law of God excites in the soul! Can you feel it?