Understanding The Story

The Bible is the story of God and God’s people. It is not primarily a rule book telling us how we should live. Or a scientific textbook explaining how things work. Or a history book of heroes we should emulate.

It is a story. It is The Story.

It is The Story of Yawheh, a God who has existed since before the foundations of this earth, who reached into time and space to create, redeem, and love. It is The Story of a people who have sometimes understood, but more often than not, The Story of a people who have messed things up. And it is The Story of a God who keeps on loving them anyway.

I think the Israelites understood this better than we do. Their view on God and history is revealed in the way they tell their own story.

In Psalm 106, we see a people who share accounts of their blunders as easily as they share their victories.

“We have sinned, even as our ancestors did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly.” – Psalm 106:6

“He saved them from the and of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. Then they believed his promises And sang his praise.” – Psalm 106:10, 12

And we see a people who declare God’s goodness as the introduction to them both.

“Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” – Psalm 106:1

They seem to understand what The Story is really about: a God whose love for His people endures through everything.

The Story is not about Israel’s leaders. They had some great ones, but those leaders were human, right along with the rest of us. They made mistakes. And if we understand what The Story is really about, it shouldn’t make us uncomfortable to talk about them.

Though, in our humanness, it probably will make us uncomfortable. And that’s okay, too. We should still do it. Just like the Israelites did.

“By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord, and trouble came to Moses because of them; for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.” – Psalm 106:32-33

Isn’t it wonderfully human that they tell the story of Moses’ anger, but still blame it on the ever-annoying dessert wanderers? I can feel them telling that story through gritted teeth, knowing they need to share it all, but struggling to take one of their great heroes off his pedestal.

I have had the honor of studying the Old Testament with a brilliant and insightful rabbi. He describes the will of God as a deep and wide river. The will of God is not a point on a map that we have to find, but a vast and refreshing stream in which we are invited to wade.

We can step into it at anytime and walk around. Once we do, we stand in the movement of all that has come before us and all that will surge after us. To understand who God is and who we are, we have to look at how the river runs all around us, back in the past, around us in the present, and ahead into the future.

The Bible is one place that tells the story of what comes before us. And the way it tells the good and the bad together gives us a model of what looking back really means. It doesn’t mean glossing over or forgetting.

Looking back means seeing how humanity struggles and God continues to love. It means looking unanswered questions in the face and finding the ways that God can still be good even when we don’t understand. Looking back means remembering how Jesus lived and hearing what Jesus said when the things in our present tell us to abandon this crazy faith.

Psalm 106
Psalm 106

That was my reflection on Psalm 106. Link up with your own reflection below. Or stop back next week for a reflection on Psalm 107.

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Taking the Long View of Faithfulness

We tend to have a short view of history.  

It’s a side effect of our me-centric Western culture. We are obsessed with evaluating whether things are true or applicable or good based on how they have shown themselves to be such in our own little lives. The problem is, we have not been around very long. Some things take longer to ponder than 30, 50, or 70 years.

 

One of the beauties of living in the communal culture of the people of Israel is that they enjoyed a shared history. They relished in their identity as a people. Which means they asked and answered questions very differently than we do.

 

Let’s say you were in a deep conversation with a friend about God and faith and life. And she asked you, “Is God faithful? Does He really answer prayers?” How would you answer?

 

I know what I would do. I would start recounting stories from my own life. Stories of how God pulled through when I was in the midst of a tough time. Tales of how the undeserved blessings of God have been poured out on my life.

 

And these stories are good. They are true. But I also wonder if they are enough.

 

Because what about the others who have not had that experience? Those who have been faithful to God but have not seen or felt his blessing in return? Does that mean God has not been faithful to them?

God's faithfulness history

 

God’s faithfulness extends beyond our personal experiences. We must take a longer view of history.

 

Psalm 66 is a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness. And though it includes appreciation for the Psalmist’s personal life experiences, this is not where it begins.

 

The Psalmist recounts the quintessential acts of God’s faithfulness to Israel. He praises God for the passages on dry ground: across the sea, in their escape from Egypt, and across the Jordan, in their entrance to the Promised Land.

 

Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!  He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot— come, let us rejoice in him. – Psalm 66:5-6

 

We read about these deeds so often in the Bible, we begin to tune them out. We think, “Well, if that happened to me, I guess I would praise God, too. I wish He was as obvious with His actions today as He was then.”

 

And in the midst of that thought, we forget about the timeline of the Bible and the long view of history.

 

We don’t know who wrote this Psalm. But it is imbedded in the Davidic Psalms, so it’s probably safe to assume it was written around the same time as his words.

 

Which means it was written around 500 years after the Exodus. This Psalmist is personally praising God for something that happened hundreds of years before he was born.

 

Have you ever looked back 500 years for signs of God’s faithfulness?

 

It just so happens that Martin Luther wrote his ninety-five theses about 500 years ago. Think of all that has happened in the history since then. The Church has had its low points, to be sure. It has defended slavery and oppression in ways that could have destroyed the biblical witness. But it didn’t.

 

Because leaders have risen up time and again to point us back to who God is and what He is calling us to in this world.

 

Governments have risen and fallen, leaders who used to rule the masses have been forgotten, but people have not stopped talking about Jesus.

 

Jesus is the ultimate measure of God’s faithfulness. He was the embodiment of God on earth, and He continues to be the embodiment of a God who is present with us. Experiencing our pain, walking with us through the ups and downs of our days, and empowering us to live differently.

 

God is here, He is active, He is present.

 

He is faithful.

 

How have you seen God's faithfulness? In history? In your life?

 


Link up your post about Psalm 66 below. Make sure to read the posts of others, too. And come back next week with a post on Psalm 67.