For the Love of God, Volume 1/June 25
From Gospel Translations
Deuteronomy 30; Psalm 119:73-96; Isaiah 57; Matthew 5
IN ITS UNFOLDING REFLECTIONS on God and his revelation, Psalm 119 is unsurpassed. Here I shall focus on three themes that surface in Psalm 119:89-96.
(1) God’s revelatory word, that word that has been inscripturated (i.e., written down to become Scripture) is not something that God made up as he went along, as if he did not understand or could not predict exactly how things were going to pan out. Far from it: “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (119:89). It was always there, eternal, in his mind. That is one of the reasons why he can be trusted absolutely: he is never caught out, never surprised. Because God’s word stands firm in the heaven, the psalmist can add, “Your faithfulness continues through all generations” (119:90).
(2) There is a connection between the word of revelation and the word of creation and of providence. Thus the first line of verse 90, “Your faithfulness continues through all generations,” is tied both to what precedes (end of v. 89) and to what succeeds (end of v. 90). God’s faithfulness through all generations is grounded, as we have seen, in the fact that God’s word stands firm in the heavens, but it is also grounded in God’s creative and providential work: “you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you” (119:90-91). The same omniscient, ordering, reflective mind stands behind both creation and revelation.
(3) Far from being oppressive and limiting, the instruction of God is freeing and illuminating. “To all perfection I see a limit,” the psalmist writes; “but your commands are boundless” (119:96). All human, earthly enterprises face limits. There are limitations on resources, on time, on the expanse of life that we may devote to such enterprises. Only so much time can be devoted to even the most sublime exercise. The limits themselves become frustrating barriers. More than one commentator has noted that this verse is almost a two-line summary of Ecclesiastes. There, every enterprise “under the sun” runs its race and expires, or proves unsatisfying and transient. In our experience there is but one exception: “your commands are boundless” (119:96).
This includes more than the well-known paradox: slavery to God is perfect freedom. For a start, freedom must be defined. If our steps are directed to God’s word, there is freedom from sin (cf. 119:133); observance of God’s “precepts” is tied to walking about in “freedom” (119:45). Moreover, reflection on and conformity with God’s words generates not narrow-minded bigotry, but a largeness of spirit that potentially stretches outward to the farthest dimensions of the mind of God; for “your commands are boundless.”