Saturday, September 25, 2010

Psalm 15-16: Earthquakes

Psalm 15-16

Confession time.  Sometimes I skim over certain psalms.  Maybe they don't connect to me.  Like if I'm super happy, some of the psalms are kind of depressing.  And sometimes if they are just filled with praise, and I'm feeling abandoned by God, I basically don't feel like celebrating.

I pick and choose my music by the way I feel, and the psalms are essentially songs, so I don't feel too bad about this.  On the other hand, this is God's Word, and the little voice in the back of my head tells me it's all good and maybe I shouldn't be so choosy about which parts I want to read.  It is what it is, and maybe when I'm more mature, I won't be so particular.

And then sometimes, when I've read the psalm many, many, many times in the past, I think to myself, yeah, I got this one.  So I skim it and move on.

I almost did that this time.

Psalm 15 asks, "Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?"
In other words, who gets to live in your presence?  Or who gets to go to heaven?

"He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, and who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong, and casts no slur on his fellowman . . ."

And the list goes on.
Prompted by one of Pastor Darrel's sermons, I did a study on "blameless" a while back.  Obviously, none of us are without blame.  Not all the time.  And so, as I recall from the study, blameless doesn't mean perfect, but more like your heart longs for righteousness, and you seek after God.  As a result, you are growing increasingly like Jesus.

Psalm 15 is short, and so I moved on.

Psalm 16 begins with a prayer.  "Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge."
I know this one pretty well too.  At one point, I think I memorized most of it because so many parts spoke to me.  And so I slowed down a little bit, remembering the time in my life when I meditated on this psalm frequently.

I especially like verses 7-8.  Verse 7 reads:  I will praise the Lord who counsels me, even at night my heart instructs me.

I love that the Holy Spirit speaks to us, counsels us, guides us, comforts us.  I love that sometimes, the Lord wakes us in the night, when we are relaxed and open to his voice, and gives us insight into relationships and circumstances.  Sometimes we even receive instruction in our dreams.  (Not all dreams are useful for this, and everything has to stand up against Scripture!)

I memorized verse 8 too:  I have set the Lord always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

. . . I will not be shaken.
The world can go to pieces, but I will cling to the Lord.  I will be steadfast. The world may shake, but I will not question his goodness.  I will worship him regardless of the circumstances.

I love the images evoked by this phrase.

That's when I realized that chapter 15 includes the same phrase: ". . . will never be shaken."
In that passage, it's the guy whose life is blameless who will never be shaken.

And I started to wonder, what did David mean by "never be shaken"?  After all, the Jews (and others) during this time period believed that sickness and other calamities indicated God's judgment.  If you're familiar with the book of Job, you remember that all Job's friends assumed the loss of his wealth, his children, and his health meant he had sinned.  They couldn't see into heaven's conversations.

So was David saying that if we're blameless, God will protect us from negative circumstances?

We like to think that if we do everything we're supposed to, our children won't get sick, everything we do will be blessed, and we'll live to be 120.  (And be healthy the entire time.)

That's not the way life works out most of the time.  Not for us.  Not for David.

No matter how blameless we live, no matter how focused we are on seeking the Lord, the world is filled with sin.  It's broken.  It's cracked.

And just as the fault lines beneath the earth's surface produce tremendous earthquakes, rattling everything we see, the brokenness in the world causes earthquakes in our lives and the lives of people around us.

In Haiti, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed structures, killed more than 200,000 people, injured 300,000, and left one million people homeless.  A month later, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck Chile, and only 300 people died.

That's still a lot of people, but you have to wonder why an earthquake that was more than 500 times stronger only killed one-tenth as many people.

The New York Times notes that the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, a 9.5-magnitude quake, happened in Chile in spring 1960.  That earthquake killed nearly 2,000 people, left more than two million homeless, and set off a series of deadly tsunamis that killed people as far away as Japan and Hawaii.

It also served as a warning to officials and residents in the region that they should be prepared for future earthquakes, and in 1985, Chile established strict building codes that ultimately protected its citizens from many of the effects of this more recent quake.

The BBC describes those codes this way:

“The idea is that buildings are held up by reinforced concrete columns, which are strengthened by a steel frame. Reinforced concrete beams are joined onto the columns to make floors and the roof. If there is an earthquake, the idea is that the concrete on the beams should break near the end, which dissipates a lot of the energy of the earthquake, but that the steel reinforcement should survive and the columns should stay standing, which means the building will stay upright."
Honestly, I don't know what all that means in terms of building, but I think this analogy helps us understand what David means in Psalm 15 and 16 when he says he "will not be shaken."

When we set the Lord before us, when we make it our goal to worship him and walk with him, as David describes in 16:8, our hearts become quake-resistant.  The ground beneath us make shake, but we stay standing.

What earthquakes have you experienced?  Were you prepared?
Are you ready for the  next big one?

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