Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Psalm That Does Not Go Far Enough

Reading Graeme Goldworthy again recently (see July 27th entry), I was struck by his conviction that we should read the Bible in light of the accomplished, saving work of Christ. “[W]hile there is much in the Bible that is strictly speaking not the gospel, there is nothing in the Bible that can be truly understood apart from the gospel” (Preaching the Whole Gospel as Christian Scripture, Eerdmans, 2000, p. 95).

Well, sure, one might say, but we don’t always do that. There was a painful time in my life when I appreciated the fifty-first Psalm 51. Many of us have had Psalm 51 moments! Looking back, though, I prayed the psalm as David would’ve prayed it, a penitential request to be restored to God. But I did not pray the psalm with the simultaneous conviction that Christ’s death and resurrection has saved me from all my sins and that the Spirit has preserved my relationship with God. I believed these things, of course, but somehow I did not connect the classic psalm of repentance and Christ’s accomplished salvation. I prayed the psalm without also embracing the Gospel!

I thought of this again recently as I read a classic book, When the Well Runs Dry by Thomas H. Green, S.J. (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1998). He writes about the spiritual darkness: “this misery is clearly a case of desolation, anxiety, turmoil, loss of faith, hope, love, peace--and St. Ignatius tells us that such desolation can never be the voice of God for one who is seeking him. Thus the cardinal principle is never to make or change a decision at such times. We should never trust our judgment of what God is doing, or how we stand before him, when that judgment is formed in desolation” (p. 132).

Connecting Fr. Green and Goldworthy, we've a good reminder that, when we’re sorrowful about sin or desolate about our lives, we cannot thereby trust our sad feelings with regard to God. We cannot even pray Psalm 51 with the notion that it says all to be said about repentance and restoration. We are already restored to God through Christ (Eph. 2). We have to hold to Christ and know that the power of sin and desolation has already been destroyed and that God still loves us fervently.

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