29 August 2012

Goodness We could not Otherwise Imagine

by Frank Turk

God’s comfort is setting us apart from evil demonstrates his Goodness; God’s counsel which doesn’t just leave us in a neutral state once we have been set apart demonstrates His Goodness.  But David goes on from there:
15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous
     and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
    to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
    and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.
In David’s view, from a cave and on the run, God is still the keeper of Justice.  When David says that Jehovah is against those who do evil, he doesn’t simply mean that it makes God sad or upset that people do bad things.  David says God will “Cut off the memory of them from the earth.”  That is: they will be utterly destroyed.  If God is in charge of Justice, it’s not like he’s going to work out some temporary arrangement for these people.  David is talking about a permanent solution actually worse than prison or death.  Calvin says that David speaks “particularly of this kind of punishment, because the ungodly not only expect that they shall be happy during their whole life, but also imagine that they shall enjoy immortality in this world.”  Think about how true that is: how those who oppose what is right think that they have instead made their own way, a better way, which will be to their credit forever.

But paired with that, David’s eye is not on the short-term for the righteous, either.  He says that the Lord is near to those who are the victims of injustice.  This is an important bridge to the final part of this psalm because what David doesn’t say is that those who love God will have no trouble, or that the trouble will be short-lived.  In the final account, David says:
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
     but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones;
     not one of them is broken.
21 Affliction will slay the wicked,
    and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
    none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
In contrast to the wicked, the disobedient, the unwise, the righteous seem to be the brunt of many afflictions.  I mean: this is why they are crying out to God, Amen?  It is not David’s view that the righteous do not suffer.  On the contrary, he is afflicted by Achish and Saul as he writes this.  Instead, he says that God delivers out of the hands of affliction.  And to underscore that, he says:
20 He keeps all his bones;
     not one of them is broken.
Which is an unusual statement.  In some sense, David is saying that the righteous man escapes his trials in one piece.  But this is supposed to be in contrast to the punishment of God against the wicked.  This is supposed to be as contrasted with being utterly stricken from the memory of all things.  Those who do evil: God will wipe them out forever; the righteous?  Not even a broken bone.

Now look: that’s pretty good!  That’s pretty good for the righteous person to say that, maybe in the final account, I’ll make out far better than the person who is doing this to me.  In some metaphysical or proverbial sense, sticks and stone may break my bones, but in God’s justice my bones aren’t really broken.  And while I admit that my view of this problem is not always the most sanctified, I’m not sure how much of a refuge that is when we are actually suffering, actually witnesses to and victims of the wickedness in this world.

We can wind up feeling a little hollow with David’s victory proclamation here if he was just speaking in metaphors.  But we have something else here which we can take refuge in.  The Apostle John, looking at the cross of Christ at the very end, says this:
31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that [the prisoners’] legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first [prisoner], and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35  He who saw it has borne witness— his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth— that you also may believe.36  For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.
In John’s view of what happened, prophecy is fulfilled here – prophecy David makes in accounting for the justice of God.  That is: David is not merely talking about a simple, temporary victory against evil here in which those persecuted can take refuge.  John tells us David was prophesying about the righteousness which is made for us in the death of Christ – and God’s intention to make it that way.   David then concludes
21 Affliction will slay the wicked,
    and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
    none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
The Psalmist is not rejoicing just because God is strong enough to do these things.  He is not overjoyed that God is merely full of justice, or is informed enough to know they must be done.  The psalmist is rejoicing – singing a song -- Calling God by name and, in his words, continually and at all times, praising and blessing God and exalting His name – because God is good.  David is not saying, “I hope the tables are turned on my enemies.”  And he is also not saying, “I know that I will end up on top eventually because God wants my to have my best life right now.”  David is not inflating his sense of optimism with the hot air.

David is saying that God has providing a cover for those who trust him, because a deliverer is coming.  From David’s viewpoint, Jesus is coming.  Jesus is coming to give something to those who are destroyed by the injustice and evil of this world but have confidence in God’s goodness.  Because look: It turns out that the question is not “Does God owe me anything?” David does not think God owes him anything – and he’s the one anointed by Samuel to be King.

David points prophetically to Christ to show that God is Good.  That is where we must also go for the goodness of God – because it points to a kind of goodness we could not otherwise imagine.

Please hear me: this is our refuge as we think about the Attributes of God.  It is not merely that He can know us, or that He can consider us, or that He can do anything for us: It is that He planned to do this since before the creation of anything.  It is that he has done it already, intentionally giving his own son over to the hand of unjust, lawless men to suffer and die – and then raising him to new life because death couldn’t possibly hold him. And most importantly – God has done all of this, and is doing it right now, for us – for our sake, and our salvation.  It is not only that God is powerful enough to do what we ask, or that God is wise enough to know what is right or even wise enough to know all things.  Our hope lies in the fact of God’s character that He is Himself Good to us, and for us.

This is what must overcome our lousy taste for what is right – that God is Good, not just in theory or on paper like a good stock pick or a good athlete.  God is Good in fact, and is working in this broken world for our sakes.

This is not a childish thing.  This is not baby talk.  This is not just something we can give to children when they are too young to pronounce “inscrutability” or “immutability” or “total depravity”.  David is telling us, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that God is Good.  This is the hope of the world – not just that there is news from God, but that it is Good News.

And this, frankly, is the message we must deliver in a week like this, full of disturbing, and disheartening, and chilling news.  “God is Great.  God is Good.  Let us Thank him for his Comfort of us; let us thank him for his Counsel to us; let us thank him for his Cover over us in Jesus.” Amen.


Larry said...

Frank as we look back over our lives and reflect, we can thank you for the words of wisdom that the Holy Spirit has helped you pen. Amen and thank you, God's Blessing by HIS Word.

FX Turk said...

Thx Larry!

Anonymous said...

I wasn't expecting this manner of blessing this morning. Thank you, Frank.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I'm commenting only so that Frank knows people are reading his columns!
Well now that I'm here, the only thing I have to dispute about this excellent teaching is the final paragraph... isn't it supposed to be "God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for our food?"

FX Turk said...

Nash -- in the context of the original sunday school lesson, my point was God's goodness is not a childish thing, and we do not outgrow it when we understand his greatness.

It's the adult version of the child's prayer, if you will. If you track back to the first installment of this series, you can probably get it for yourself.

FX Turk said...


Nash Equilibrium said...

Thanks Frank. I don't get to read this every day; I obviously missed that earlier installment and will check it out.
But at least we know that the one-star guy comes here every day! Maybe he doesn't realize you love him because he doesn't read the combox? May the title of some future article ought to be "one star h8er, I love you!"?

Greg Howard said...

Like Nash, just posting to show Frank some that someone's reading. Can't add much other than "Amen" and "thanks".

Jeremiah Greenwell said...

It's like when you actually look at scripture as a whole it actually interprets itself. Who'dathought?

DJP said...

Good post.


Rachael Starke said...

I'm beginning to think that the quality of Frank's posts is becoming directly linked to the inverse proportion of comments he gets.

I've been in a place spiritually and circumstantially where the glibness of the usual platitudes about the goodness of God in the midst of hard times has been chokingly hard to swallow.

Your words, OTOH, are real medicine, because they're tied to the Great Physician. Thanks.

Linda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda said...

a hardy AMEN! You're a true blessing to the saints Frank~

Actually, hard lives and adversities are a blessing from the LORD. It's just that many times we fail to obtain God's GRACE and don't see it in it's proper perspective that God is ALWAYS GOOD. The many hard times and heartaches and disappointments are used by God to keep us dead to ourselves, and alive only unto Christ. How easy it is to slide into the way of the world and the flesh. But when there is no enjoyment in the things of this life due to continual pain , suffering and hardships it frees us from the distractions and temptations which are not of God. Thus the Lord takes the consequences of sin (pain and suffering), turns it around, and uses it as a means to destroy our interest in the things of the world and flesh, drawing us to Him and His Word. JESUS becomes our "never-ending flow of living waters."God takes the barrenness of our lives and replaces it with HIMSELF-- HE is our Peace and Joy

God keeps his hand on the thermostat! "A bruised reed he will not break a smoldering candle he will not snuff out"