Friday, 19 September 2014
Psalm 19 and Cousin Betty
When I was twelve, I received a birthday present in the mail from Cousin Betty who lived in Tenafly, New Jersey. Tearing into the brown box, I round a green suede purse with a gold clasp and a green leather strap. “Ugly!” I pronounced, casting it aside and reaching for the next package. “Now Rondi,” came my mother’s gentle reprimand, “They don’t have much money. She didn’t have to send you anything!” Appropriately chastened, I took another look at the purse and wrote the obligatory thank you note. The purse stayed in my closet.
The problem was not just that Cousin Betty didn’t know me well, but that I barely knew her. She was my mom’s first cousin (making her my first cousin once removed and her children my second cousins–that’s the kind of relational education you receive in Dixie) and they were very close. But I only knew her at a distance, from occasional visits and my mom’s stories.
Then I went off to college in New Jersey and she invited me to come for Thanksgiving weekend. It was a blast. She and her husband took me into New York to have dinner and see a show. I found out she was studying for her law degree. She listened at length to anecdotes from my freshman year. “Cousin Betty” became just “Betty”, my friend as well as my mom’s.
She had revealed herself to me. That revelation deserved a new name.
Creation speaks “Glory!”
As we studied Psalm 19 this week, I was thinking about both the wonders and the limits of creation as a mouthpiece for God. Creation shouts “someone made me!” But what do I learn about that Someone? On a Camelot day like today–blue sky, warm sun, crisp air, gentle breeze–I might say, “that Someone is good, kind, gentle, lovely.” But on a day like Monday, October 24 in Ankara, Turkey–7.2 earthquake, 88 people killed instantly, homes destroyed, children trapped, aftershocks rumbling–I might say, “that Someone is powerful, angry, inscrutable, frightening.” How do we interpret the data?
We need him to keep speaking, revealing himself by new names.
The Law says “Holy, righteous, good!”
Do you have any idea how hard it is to make good laws? You don’t even have to look at Congress for examples of painfully bad laws, just look at the rules in your own household. My rules tended to come after disasters had already occurred. “Tap dance on the tables? That sounds like fun! Oh…no…bad idea. From now on, no tap dancing on the tables!” Mark’s laws were more preventative and comprehensive. His “from now on….” would send us running for cover. What new prohibition was going into effect, limiting our fun and burdening our memory?! Both of us struggled to make good laws for our home.
The Creator revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush (what a great example of his rule over creation, a bush that is burning, but not consumed). He spoke in nouns and verbs not just rocks and trees. He revealed that he is, he sees, he hears, he cares, and he comes down to deliver. No uncaring Earthquake God he, but a Deliverer. In keeping with the new revelation came a new name, “I AM.”
After delivering them, he gave then the family rules. They were an accurate expression of his holiness, righteousness, and goodness. They needed no amendments or codicils. They never needed to be repealed. They were perfect, like him.
There was only one problem. They were too hard to keep.
David’s prayer whispers “protect me and bail me out.”
I love how David responds to the high standards of the Law. He doesn’t throw up his hands in despair or make resolutions to try harder. He doesn’t opt out and ask for the standard to be changed. He doesn’t respond to the Law at all, but to the Person behind the law. He appeals for help to become the blameless, integrated person that the Law demands. He reaches into his bag of names for God and pulls out the ones that apply. He calls God not “El” or “YHWH” but “Rock” and “Redeemer.” He needs God to protect him from subtle and blatant sins. And he needs God to pay the debts he has incurred for all of his previous sins.
God has already revealed himself to David by those names. So David has those names by which to call on him. He takes full advantage of every name by which he knows the LORD, calling on the name that fits the circumstance.
What name do I need to call him today?
This psalm helps me pray. It shows me how much my God wants me to know him and how many ways he has revealed himself. It gives me many names to use when I call upon him. “The name of the Lord is a high tower, the righteous run into it and are safe.” Do I need the protection of a tower as I am assaulted by temptation? Then I can call on him that way. Do I need the stability of a rock under my feet as I move to a new town? Then I can name him thus. Do I need the wisdom of the Creator for my sick child? Then I can cry out to him who made my child.
And because the One who is greater than David came, I have another name to pray. The Son came to reveal the Father. Now I can pray not just “my Rock” or “my Redeemer” but “my Father.” That name covers a lot of ground.
What name do you need to call him today?