A Lamp Unto My Feet: Monster-Psalm Meditation # 14

Psalm 119:105-112
Your word is a lamp to my feet
   and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
   to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted;
   give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
   and teach me your ordinances.
I hold my life in my hand continually,
   but I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
   but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your decrees are my heritage for ever;
   they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes
   for ever, to the end.

I think it was Amy Grant who wrote the song “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet” that we used to sing at our weekly campus fellowship gatherings at the University of Virginia in the late nineties. I hadn’t thought a whole lot about the imagery of this verse except that God’s Word is what makes it possible for us to see where we’re going. That’s certainly very important, but what God has given me recently is to reflect on the kind of light that His Word is.

In high school, when we would take our jeeps mudding at night, an important accessory for your jeep was to buy a pair of KC lights which each could produce up to 300,000 candlepower. Riding with a buddy who had his KC’s on while we sloshed through a mud pit, it looked brighter than daylight. Many people want for God’s Word to be like KC lights because they want to not only see where they’re going but be able to see everything there is to know. There is a kind of ruthless, colonizing penetration of certain forms of theology which don’t want there to be any mystery left to God’s nature. My wife was sharing with me tonight a Jehovah’s Witness booklet that her friend had gotten proselytized with recently. They had an explanation for everything and a reason why every branch of Christianity is wrong and they were the only ones who read the Bible correctly. It’s not just the particularities of Jehovah’s Witness theology that’s wrong; their tyrannically totalizing theological gaze is the wrong approach to God’s Word entirely. To some degree, any systematic theology as such is a heresy against the mystery of God.

I think that God deliberately shows us only so much, partly because we can only handle so much and partly because He wants to keep us in check and free of idolatry. His Word is not a KC light; it’s a lamp to our feet and a light whose purpose is to show us which way to walk, not to make every inch of darkness clear as day, but simply to reveal the next few steps we need to take. I’m starting to wonder whether the contradictions in the Bible (which there are, by the way!) have been deliberately planted by God to see if we can have the humility not to try to build our own theological systems and bracket or qualify every witness in scripture that doesn’t fit into our box. Do we have the humility to apply God’s word simply as a lamp unto our feet and not whip out the mag lights of our own theological speculation to supplement it?

And yet, even as I write this, I know that I enjoy speculating about God’s nature. It’s part of my worship and delight in God to wonder about Him, not just about the aspects of His teaching that are directly applicable to the path in front of me but all kinds of fascinating puzzles that don’t have any practical function. I hope it’s not wrong to enjoy speculating about God; and I can’t imagine how it would be. As Psalm 119 says in an earlier verse, “It is my conversation all day long.” I think it’s when the wondering turns into policing that I’ve made my doctrine into an idol. The delusion that I understand all there is to know about God creates an idol in my head no different than if I had a little gold statue in my pocket to take out and worship. You can’t worship someone who fits into your pocket; idolatry means worshiping a “god” whom you can control, which is not really worship. Worship implies beyond-ness and mystery. I’ve been reading Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of This World which was recommended to me as sort of a primer of Eastern Orthodox theology. Here’s what Schmemann says about worshiping God:

“Holy” is the real name of God, of the God “not of the scholars and philosophers,” but of the living God of faith. The knowledge about God results in definitions and distinctions. The knowledge of God leads to this one, incomprehensible, yet obvious and inescapable word: holy. And in this word we express both that god is the Absolutely Other, the One about whom we know nothing, and that He is the end of all our hunger, all our desires, the inaccessible One who mobilizes our wills, the mysterious treasure that attracts us, and there is really nothing to know but Him. [32]

It is God’s mystery and absolute otherness which keeps our desire for Him kindled. This I think is the meaning of Mark 4:22 where Jesus explains to His disciples why He talks in parables. He says, “For nothing is hidden if not to be revealed; neither is anything made secret, except in order that it should be manifested.” The purpose of hiding mysteries from us is to instill the desire that enables greater illumination. If all the mysteries of the universe were unveiled in front of us, then we wouldn’t have built the vision to perceive them fully so we would only do so superficially and that would be the permanent limit of our comprehension. That’s why it is merciful for God to be slow in revealing His truth to us, so that there will always be deeper delights that remain in the future. The ancient fathers got this, particularly Gregory of Nyssa. It’s only in the wake of the Enlightenment that we hate mystery. So let us rejoice at the lamp that we have for our feet. We can speculate about what’s in the dark like five year old boys making up stories, but we should also be grateful that God has so much more to show us.

3 thoughts on “A Lamp Unto My Feet: Monster-Psalm Meditation # 14

  1. Thank you Morgan for this post. This was a much needed reminder. I love diving into God’s word and understanding who He is and what he wants for me but I tend to take it to an extreme. I fall into the trap of explaining things away and I have to be reminded to enjoy the journey. Thanks again.

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