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The Paths of the Lord

Reflections and a Prayer on Psalm 25:8-10

People sometimes think that if they can just find God's perfect will — if they can genuinely recognize God's leading — their life will be easier. They think that if they could find God's will, they could find a life without problems or setbacks or disappointments.

I don't know where such ideas come from — but a moment of thought will dispel them. The great Bible characters did not have lives that were devoid of difficulties or setbacks or griefs or disappointments. If this did not happen with them, how can I reasonably expect it for myself? Jesus grieved over Jerusalem. The apostle Paul knew setbacks and discouragements in his ministry. How can I suppose my life can be free from such things?

The path of the Lord is not easy, it is worthwhile. Those who choose to live as Christ has taught make a positive contribution to life — to their own life and to the lives of others. We move along a difficult path characterized by faith and love and hope. And, by doing so, we bring more faith and hope and love into the world.

It is not an easy path. It is a good path.

טוֹב־וְיָשָׁר יְהוָה עַל־כֵּן יוֹרֶה חַטָּאִים בַּדָּרֶךְ
“Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.”

Notice the appeal to God's character: YHWH is good (טוֹב) and upright (יָשָׁר). The first is the common Hebrew word that meant "good" (and still does, as in the phrase: "boqer tov" for "good morning"). The second is a word that means "straight." YHWH is not deceptive, but is straightforward. God's goodness can be trusted.

A deterministic God becomes a God who is thus responsible for misfortune and tragedy. Can such a God be trusted? The God we know through Christ is the source of love and hope and justice — a Being whose reality can be the basis for living life with hope.

It is not just a matter of believing that a thing is good because God does it. Rather, the notion that God is good depends upon our prior ideas of what goodness and "straightness" already are. God does what is good. I think through the history of the human race the idea of what is goodness has grown and developed. God has always met people where they were culturally — to lead them forward in their understandings. But, the basic conviction is the same: God is good.

And, the implication of the goodness of God is: "therefore he instructs sinners in the way." (The word used here is the common Hebrew word for "sinner.") It is not so much that God shuns sinners, as that God instructs and teaches sinners. And, in this company, David (or "the Psalmist") includes himself. He is a sinner — but, one who has been instructed by God. God's character is revealed in the instruction of sinners rather than in the destruction of them. I don't mean that judgement and condemnation are not possible — not at all — but that the character of God is best known in the redemptions and reformation of us sinners.

I like some of Spurgeon's remarks here (from The Treasury of David):

Moreover, as a good man naturally endeavours to make others like himself, so will the Lord our God in his compassion bring sinners into the way of holiness and conform them to his own image; thus the goodness of our God leads us to expect the reclaiming of sinful men. We may not conclude from God’s goodness that he will save those sinners who continue to wander in their own ways, but we may be assured that he will renew transgressors’ hearts and guide them into the way of holiness. Let those who desire to be delivered from sin take comfort from this. God himself will condescend to be the teacher of sinners. What a ragged school is this for God to teach in! God’s teaching is practical; he teaches sinners not only the doctrine but the way.

God meets us where we are, but does not leave us where we are. God instructs us in "the way."

יַדְרֵךְ עֲנָוִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט וִילַמֵּד עֲנָוִים דַּרְכּוֹ
“He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.”

The word עָנָו can mean: "humble, afflicted, poor, or oppressed." Here the term "the humble" is standing in (in Hebrew parallelism) for the term "sinner." The sinners who are instructed by God are the humble.

Humility begins with recognizing our errors. From this we come to see our limitations. If we remain humble we are also correct-able, and teach-able. We are not brought low to be shamed, but to be instructed.

This is quite different from being shamed, or "getting down on yourself," or being depressed. Humility is a recognition of our limitations. We are not unimportant but we are no more important that anyone else. Depression and self-pity and self-hate focus undue attention on ourselves. They are narcissistic in their own way — in a destructive way, actually. Depression is paralyzing. It saps our energy.

I think humility is quite different from having a low opinion of yourself. Humility is admitting the truth about yourself. We are limited and often mistaken human beings. We need forgiveness and correction.

The humble are led in what is right (
מִשְׁפָּט). Here is the great Hebrew word for justice. As we follow God's instruction — led ever forward inot God's path — we come to a deeper and deeper understanding of justice and right.

כָּל־אָרְחוֹת יְהוָה חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת לְנֹצְרֵי בְרִיתוֹ וְעֵדֹתָיו
"All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees."

Here is the great advantage of being a humble, instructed sinner: we find our way onto YHWH's paths. And, this is certainly where we want to be. YHWH's paths are steadfast love and faithfulness.

These are wonderful words, expressing a wonderful, almost inexpressible reality: God's faithful love. The term חֶסֶד often translated "steadfast love" is (in my opinion) essentially untranslatable: it is that amazing, gracious never-gives-up love of God that reaches out to us in spite of our foolishness, and our waywardness. The idea is strengthened further when paired up with אֱמֶת "faithfulness" or "reliability."

God meets us in our sin and waywardness. God teaches us a path by which to live. And, when we live in it, we are surrounded by God's unwavering love and faithfulness. It is not an easy live, secure from any discouragements or griefs or set-backs, it is a life of blessing and hope and peace and love. We do not discover ease, but blessing. We are upheld, we are made strong. Our lives become both blessed and a blessing to others. We become an influence for good. And goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our life.

God's path is an upward path. It's always harder traveling uphill. But, the view from the top us wonderful, and the journey itself is good. It is not an easy life. It is a life worth living.

O God
whose ways are steadfast love and faithfulness
Who has come to us in Jesus Christ
Meet us again in our waywardness, our foolishness, and our sin
Teach us again Your Ways
We often desire an easy life
Teach us to live a life worth living
We often desire our own peace and pleasure
Teach us the way to fulfillment and true joy
Teach us the discipline that bring hope to ourselves and our world
Show us Your path
Lift us up when we stumble
Please be patient with our stumbling ways.
Teach us,
Guide us,
Uphold us.
Be our guide up the mountain of faith and hope and love.
May Your grace be upon us
May your grace shine out of our instructed lives. Amen.

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