We all have memories of the two-year-old infant who can only ask “Why?” The context does not really matter – the question remains the same – Why? They want to know everything about their world even though they cannot really understand.
“Why?” is the question that dominates today, we want to know why decisions are made, certain things affect us, and why covid seems to affect people in different ways. We ask to understand, yet, as we understand, we have more questions to ask! Events over the last few weeks have been a strange mix of hopeful and stressful: Vaccines show positive results and Covid-19 is having is predicted winter effect as the R number goes up and Lockdowns come down hard on the shadow of ordinary that had returned. We want to know Why these things are happening: the evidence behind another lockdown, the effect it will have on mental health, the cost it will carry for the economy, and even if we can see our families over Christmas!
As we looked for answers (or hope), there is one place (for Christians) where hope can always be found – God’s word. As another lockdown was announced, I found myself turning to the set readings in the Anglican Lectionary for that day (Friday 20th November). Reading’s that did not specifically address the Why but reminded me strongly of the What of our reality these days and our Christian hope. The reading was Psalm 131
Passage: Psalm 131:1-3 CSB
1LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me. 2 Instead, I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like a weaned child. 3 Israel, put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever.
Psalm 131 is one of the Psalms of Ascent; a Psalms say by the Israelites as they made spiritual pilgrims back to Jerusalem. These verses offer us hope today, and whenever we come to them because they declare two things:
- 1. How Great God is and beyond anything we can comprehend.
- 2. How we should love in response to God’s Greatness in the world.
This Psalm is one about a humbled position because the Psalmist has confidence in God, because of the Lord. Furthermore, this is a Psalm that challenges us to consider everything against our perception of God. Psalm 131 calls us to have confidence and to live confidently because our hope is in God. A Psalm that reminds us that regardless of the idols of our culture and their claims of strength there is only One we can truly depend on; and a Psalm that reminds of the reality of the Gospel – that above all else God is our only hope in things temporal and eternal.
Gospel Humility (1)
Brought Low by our Circumstances
Covid-19, lockdown, Coronavirus, social distancing, isolation, and any many other words have shaped our speech part of our daily speech throughout this pandemic. They are words that summarise our humbling by all that has been going on – we have been brought low. Covid-19 has been a shared-humbling experience for everyone because it can affect us regardless of who we are or what we might own. It’s vastness, reach, and potential for damage make it a humbling experience for everyone. Furthermore, it is humbling because it is such an unknown: thus, it leaves us ‘stoped low,’ and fearful of it. We are like mice who have seen an elephant for the first time: overawed by its size, unsure of its power and afraid because of our lack of comprehension. Yet, someday it will pass. It is not just Covid-19; there are so many things that we will encounter in life that bring us low; they challenge our notions of power and importance – they humble us—people, position, or events that challenge our understanding of self and the world. Yet, if we are honest, these moments which might humble us do so not because we have met something good, but because we have encountered something we unknown. something we fear. It will challenge us as we either run from it or find ways to confront it. Eventually, circumstances pass, and people move on, and our lowliness rises as false confidence returns, and we soon find ourselves back to what we where. Yet the image we encounter in verse one of this Psalm is a radically different humility. It is not one of circumstance but one of the covenant. The Psalmist presents the image of one brought low before God, by God, and for God: It is a humility through faith (not fear) because it is in one who has been confronted by something good and great and that is the humility which effects both now and evermore.
Context shapes how we see the world and our place in it. Covid-19 is a context altering event. Hence it brings us fear. Yet, the right perspective of Covid-19 also helps us understand the context. Simply put Covid-19 is nothing before God. Psalm 131 shows us how the proper perspective of God will humble us. A humility that is brought on not by the fleeting changes in our circumstances but by a right and objective view of God. Think of King David and the life that he lived: he moved from Mountain Top experiences to valley experiences and everything in between:
- – He was the most powerful man in his world, one loved and fear by all; Yet, at different points, he was in fear for his life as he faced threats from everywhere.
- – He was a man of whom God declared: “The LORD has found a man after his own heart.”1 Yet, God also rebuked: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? ”2 A rebuke because of the devastating idolatry in David’s life.
The image of hearts and eyes lifted up is pride, a perfect summary-picture of the world we live in. We seek to make much of ourselves! We are told to look inward – a journey leads to puffed out chests, struggles for power and clambering for recognition. The image that David presents here of hearts and eyes lowered is the exact opposite of the world. It is the picture of humility, and not just any humility but Gospel Humility. One who truly knows God knows they have nothing to boast about.
This is a humility brought on by the Gospel at work in our life. God’s people are they who know they bring nothing to the table, yet receive everything and more by faith. There is no circumstance or context that can make the right view and knowledge of God seem less critical or potent for our lives. Like David, we might lose sight of that truth in life, yet, (like David) our eyes will soon be brought low by seeing right. The question is to what do we look too? Do we know God as all-powerful, all kind, all good, all-loving, and sovereign over all things? Do we humble ourselves before that or are earthly things?
The Effects of Gospel Humility
Gospel humility is not just the summary of a heart or the image of one who is in a relationship with God. It is the picture of the effects of the Gospel in our life. It is the picture of peace. A disciple is one who can be humble because he has peace in this world. A peace that transcends circumstance, context, or covid. David’s image at the end of verse one: “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me” is one of both humility and peace. He is humble because, unlike the world, he does not seek his own exultation, he is happy with his place and position in God.
Additionally, he does not need to act at such things because he is at peace and has all he needs. Thus, he does not bother himself with lofty ideas or plots beyond him because he trusts that God is at work in all things. We who are in Christ are to be those who have peace that transcends every circumstance because the one from whom our peace comes is beyond this world. Consider what that means for us today during covid-19 or whatever else we might be facing. Our worry is understandable. However, we must not let our contextual fears seem more prominent than the God we love and serve. We are called to be a people of peace because nothing can shake our foundation in Christ. Soon covid-19 shall pass, and the worries of the world will be shaped by something else – regardless let us know and make known the peace of Christ.
Gospel Contentment (2)
To be humbled by things of this world is not a wrong thing, but circumstantial humblings and temporal events. To be humbled by God is a radically different thing because it lasts forevermore and changes us as we respond to his goodness. Thus, the more we come to know God, the more we should be humbled by our knowledge. To know him more is to become more awed and dependant on him; it is to go deeper into His peace. As we know him more, we also desire to know more of him because in that knowledge we realise he is what we are made for and in Him, we find all we are seeking – hence, we can trust God. The Gospel humbles us because it requires us to grasp that we cannot save ourselves, yet it gives us peace because we put our trust in one who is beyond the schemes of this world and in control of them. Furthermore, a right view of God leads us to realise that in Him, we have one in whom we can depend. The God who will empty himself for us is one to whom not only can we look too, we can rely on because He is both sovereign and good.
Verse two uses the image of an infant child clinging to his mother, a scene of fulfilment. A child knows nothing else of the world when growing up but the care of a mother. They know none of the world’s pleasures or vices; successes or pains – all they know is the warmth, love and comfort of a caring parent. At that moment, the child has all it needs. The child is content and at peace in spite of the world around them because with its mother, it has one on whom it can depend. This image is the perfect summary of Gospel Contentment. The one who knows God, has been humbled by him and lives in his peace is one who is content: Hence, their soul is calm and quiet – it longs for nothing because in God it has everything.
A Child as it grows, learns contentment through dependency, it has not chosen to trust the mother. It trusts out of necessity, yet it also learns that when the parent is good, that choice is good. The depth of our contentment depends on the reality of our dependency: if we know God truly then regardless of circumstance, we will depend on Him. There is nothing that can take what we have in God from us. Thus, in every situation, we fix our eyes on him because those things shall pass, and He shall remain. The challenge for us during Covid-19 as comforts have been stripped away and hidden idols laid bare is to again find that dependency and contentment in God.
Covid will pass, and soon something else will bring with it the worries and strains of life. Yet, what if the fruit of this time is allowing the Holy Spirit to bring us to a greater dependency on God so that our lives display contentment beyond the world so that more people can know the wonder of a relationship with God.
Our (Only) Hope(3)
Covid-19 has, in many ways, robbed us of hope. In a moment, the pandemic laid bare the weakness of the foundations on which our culture has built. The old idols have fallen to something powerful hence we, do not know where to look for hope. Yet, what if the answer is right in front of our eyes? King David experienced all of the ups and downs of life: he new the fullness of human experience. He had lived life well, his Instagram would be the jealously of all. Even though at many different moments in life, a love of something other than God was obvious, he always returned to the one on whom we can depend. Earthly things time pass and God remains.
Today we do not minimise Covid-19 or the devastating effect it has had. Yet, it will soon fade into the ethereal fog of our memories as hope is restored through the wonder of vaccines and medicine. New foundations will be formed, and even though the world has been scared, she will continue on with chests pumped out and pride abounding that is until the next crises. It is the cycle of living in a broken world. That which gives us hope soon leads to hopelessness.
Yet, what if in this season we looked not to things created but to the Uncreated One. With all the experience’s of David’s life, he summed up his identity, security, and hope in the wonderful words and challenge that finish this short and powerful Psalm: “Israel, put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever.” David had been through all the seasons of life, and he knew that in those seasons, there was only one on which we could truly depend – God.
My question as we finish today is simple: What are you putting your hope in? As we enter another lockdown and work our way through the dark winter nights, what are you depending on to get you through? May we be those who look to God the all-powerful and all-good one who gives of himself that we might know him, have hope through him and depend on him in all circumstances. He who proved both his goodness and way as he took the worst of humanity (the cross) and made it his ultimate symbol of love and victory. What are you putting your hope in now? Jesus or a pale imitation that will take more than we can ever give? Covid-19 will soon pass, lockdown will end, and in time the world will feel similar to what we miss. We will request the restaurants, queue in shops without worrying about two meters and freely work in and meet people in coffee shops. Yet what if we are not meant to return to normal? What if lockdown makes us look not to ourselves but to God who is our only hope? This Psalm finishes with a challenge: There is something beyond the now, there is something eternal, and in matter’s of eternity, there is only one hope – Yahweh. Thus David begs his people to trust God both now in whatever they face and in light of forevermore because, in things eternal, he is the only one on whom they can depend. What about us? Where is our hope in Jesus the eternal one or in the things of now? These soon shall pass, yet, let us not pass up on the offer of Grace and life with God but now and forevermore.
1 1 Samuel 13:14 CSB
2 2 Samuel 12:7