For about the past year, God has been giving me verses from psalms to memorize in Hebrew. I can’t really explain why. But the meaning of the verse that He gives me is slightly different than what’s literally written.The latest of these is Psalm 79:9: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.” When I read the psalm today, I knew it was the verse I was supposed to memorize so I started working on the Hebrew and saying it as a real prayer to Him, and then He asked me one of those pointed questions He always asks: Do you really care about the glory of my name?
God talks back to me when I pray to Him. On July 8th for example, the verse He told me to memorize was Psalm 25:7: “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; remember according to your love and for the sake of your goodness.” But the meaning God gave it was not just a plea for God to forget my sins, but rather God Himself telling me, “You don’t have to keep on remembering who you’ve always been; I can re-member you according to my love and for the sake of my goodness.”
So when I say chatot nouri ufshai al tizkor; k’hasdacha zakar li atah l’mayan tuvacha adonai as I go through my prayer beads, what I’m saying is help me forget that I’ve always been a snobby, cynical brat with a short fuse up until this very moment in time; remake me into a completely new creation yet again and even now according to your love and for the sake of your goodness.
So now I’ve got a new prayer: Azreinu elohey yishenu al dabar kabod sh’mecha; v’hatsilenu v’kapeir al chatoteinu l’mayan sh’mecha. And it’s not about trying to manipulate God into saving me on the battlefield on account of the reputation of His name. What God told me to ask Him for is the desire to bring glory to His name. Because that’s the purest and most joyful motive from which I could possibly act. None of us can be perfectly God-centered, but we should ask God to give us the genuine desire to live “for the sake of His name.”
There’s a way in which that’s the only real power God gives Himself at least in the human community: to gather a people who live for the sake of His name. If we’re honest, we have to admit that it’s a mystery how the creator and source of all being interacts with our natural world. I don’t for a minute think that God is the Deist watchmaker who set up the universe at the beginning and then stepped back to watch. But what sort of power does God have?
He’s the still, small voice, the basic respiration of the universe if you will (yah… weh…), the catalyst of zillions of micro-processes. But He isn’t the lightning or the earthquake or the tidal wave. He made all of these things and has some kind of dominion over them; but it’s almost like God is employing a sort of cosmic judo (I don’t know much about judo except I’ve heard that the basic tactic is to use the momentum of the other person to your advantage instead of exerting your own energy).
If every human being decided to say screw God’s name, then He wouldn’t have any power over the human race. He could pour seven bowls of wrath, send the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and cause all kinds of plagues, but if the whole human race decided to interpret these events as random natural phenomenon to be responded to scientifically, then the damage caused wouldn’t translate into any real glory for God. It would just be meaningless destruction.
I suppose God could get some kind of satisfaction from torturing the whole human race eternally if we all went atheist on Him, but what an inferior glory it would be to make your creatures hate you with every ounce of their being and curse your name compared to the glory of turning enemies into worshipers who share your delight. So I have a hunch that how God chooses to use His power in creation is pragmatically oriented toward the goal of winning over people who hate or ignore Him.
My paternal grandfather Arthur Guyton was mostly paralyzed for most of his adult life after catching polio in his twenties. If his teenage sons got mad at him and decided to throw him in the swimming pool, they could have done it pretty easily. But they didn’t. They simply obeyed whatever he asked them to do (and when one didn’t, he told the others to throw that one in the pool because he didn’t have the strength to spank them).
They were his hands and feet; he was their brain. And because of the tremendous responsibility and empowerment my dad and my nine aunts and uncles received from this relationship, they all wound up attending Harvard Medical School and becoming doctors, following in the footsteps of a man who saw his lifelong paralysis as motivation to invent the joystick-controlled motorized wheelchair and write one of the most widely read medical textbooks of the 20th century, partly because he had his family to help him when he needed hands and feet. He commanded his children’s respect, and they lived their lives in honor of his name.
Perhaps it’s inappropriate to make this comparison, but I often think of God’s relationship to humanity as being like my grandfather’s relationship to his children (even though my grandpa was probably the first atheist ever to live in Jackson, Mississippi). God has power within creation insofar as creation honors His name and becomes His hands and feet. Most of creation simply moves according to His breath (though who can tell how much of creation even apart from humanity has been infested with demonic strongholds?). Humans are the only creatures who are aware enough of what’s going on to tell God to piss off if we don’t want to obey Him.
So how do we know if we are existing for the glory of God’s name and not throwing God’s name around for the glory of our own name? There are all kinds of subtle ways to make the latter look like the former. It’s also true that we can suspect our theological opponents of doing the latter when they’re genuinely concerned with the former and have simply been given a different prophetic assignment by the same God we serve. I was given “I desire mercy not sacrifice” as the prophetic word for my life, so I tend to suspect any word that diminishes God’s mercy of dishonoring God’s name and I cry out against it because I understand that to be my duty. But there is still so much flesh and ego mixed into my motives that needs to be crucified.
Can I live for the glory of Your name? Can I avoid idolizing the pristine ideas that I sometimes worship instead of You whom the ideas are supposedly about? Can I honor You not just with my words but with how I actually treat the people You gave me to love? I’m pretty bad at it, but I’m going to ask You to make me better. Help me, O God of my salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver me and forgive my sins for the sake of your name.