I am a friend to all who fear you: Monster-Psalm Meditation #8

Psalm 119:57-64

You are my portion, LORD;
   I have promised to obey your words.
I have sought your face with all my heart;
   be gracious to me according to your promise.
I have considered my ways
   and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay
   to obey your commands.
Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
   I will not forget your law.
At midnight I rise to give you thanks
   for your righteous laws.
I am a friend to all who fear you,
   to all who follow your precepts.
The earth is filled with your love, LORD;
   teach me your decrees.

What does it mean to be a “friend to all who fear God”? God has been wrestling with me on this question lately as I’ve felt compelled to call out idolatries that I’ve seen in the teachings of very popular Christian leaders (such as Dave Ramsey).

Have I been appropriately charitable in how I speak? Probably not.

Have I dismissively oversimplified the beliefs of others with whom I disagree rather than trying to understand where they’re coming from and affirm the truth in what they say? Probably so.

Have I ranted and raved about other people in more controversial terms than necessary as a strategy for calling attention to myself? Yes and no.

That’s where it gets hard. I feel like God has given me a word to proclaim amidst the cacophony of voices like mine that are trying to represent Him. When I asked others for counsel about what I should do to cultivate my writing vocation, I was told to start a blog and submit articles to Christian websites to create enough of a buzz so that I could approach publishers successfully. The way you get peoples’ attention is to prophetically call out popular misrepresentations of the gospel that seem to go unquestioned. The more popular the sacred cow, the more it needs to be challenged (and the more buzz you create for yourself by challenging it). So there’s inherently a messy mixture of sinful and Godly motives, but it seems like I’m supposed to follow this course in order to live out my call as a public theologian.

Theological controversializing is a quintessential Christian practice. Augustine did it. So did Tertullian. So did Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, and a whole slew of other theologians over history. There is something necessarily contentious about practicing theology. We inherently make sentences that sound like: “You have heard it said that X, but I tell you Y.” Without heresy, there is no orthodoxy, because orthodoxy discovers its boundaries by calling out heresy. Most of the scriptural arguments we use to determine what’s within bounds and what’s out of bounds of Christian orthodoxy were responses by Jesus and Paul to people who didn’t get it.

But somehow amidst these messy arguments, we are called to be friends with all who fear God. We are called to learn from each other and enjoy the challenge of having our minds transformed by people who don’t make any sense to us. What does it mean to fear God? It doesn’t mean to be scared of him. I cannot say that emphatically enough! The Hebrew word yore means being in a state of awe, being speechless before the glory that is way bigger than our brains can systematize into an all-conclusive theology. Hebrews 12:18-24 uses the metaphor of Mt. Zion to describe the mysterious presence of the Lord which is the source of unfathomable joy for some and wrathful terror for others.

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

This mountain of God that we approach is not something to be taken lightly. The Israelites had reason to be terrified of the mountain where the stone tablets were made. But Hebrews 12 says that Christians are given a different way of viewing God’s mountain. Through our confidence in the new covenant mediated by the blood of Jesus, we can approach this mountain with a different kind of fear, an awesome wonder that causes the seraphs in Isaiah 6 to sing, “Holy holy holy is the Lord of Hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory.” Of course, it’s worth remembering that “the pivots on the threshold [of the temple] shook at the voices of those who called.” The ecstatic worship that God’s glory will command is going to be the infinite opposite of what modern teenagers convey when they say that famous word whatever. And if we spend our whole lives saying only whatever with our attitudes and actions, we’re going to run away from that mountain in terror.

When the prophet Isaiah saw the glory of God in the Jerusalem Temple in Isaiah 6, it was wholly appropriate for him to say, “Woe is me, I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” But because of Jesus’ blood, we don’t need a fiery winged cobra (seraph) to come and scorch our lips with a coal from God’s cauldron like he did for Isaiah. If we face our absolute brokenness and utter unholiness before God and put our full trust in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, then we can say, “Here am I; send me.” To be a friend of God (and a friend of those who fear God) means being atoned to the point that you aren’t bullshitting when you face an infinitely holy God and say, “Here am I; send me.” Many people say, Here am I; send me, but they’re not talking to God; they’re talking to some Santa Claus puppet their mind has constructed.

Okay, so I got a little carried away. In any case, being “a friend to all who fear God” means that we are on the same team with all who have gained the confidence through the blood of Jesus’ new covenant not to turn away from the holy mountain of Zion, with all who are trying to gaze on the terrifying but entirely benevolent holy beauty of God and stammer out some kind of response to it. We should absolutely be obedient to God’s call to sharpen each other, but our goal should never be to destroy our ideological opponents or assassinate their characters. Our hope should be to help our friends burn away all their idols in order to purify their encounter with the infinite beauty of God.

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