Monday, January 4, 2016

The LORD has set apart the faithful for himself

Inasmuch as it is the fourth day of the year, I thought it would be well to meditate on some verse from the fourth psalm. (I have no idea how far into the year I will be going with this!)

These lines in particular stuck out to me:

But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself;
  the LORD hears when I call to him (Ps 4.3).

In the Old Testament scheme of things, there are real distinctions between persons as regards their moral states. Of course, it is true that no one is without sin. Yet numerous texts also presuppose a real difference between the righteous and the wicked, those faithful to YHWH and those who set themselves against God. This text in particular notes that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself. What does that mean?

I understand it as follows. Those who are faithful to the LORD have a relationship with him which the faithless do not. In various passages in the Old Testament, this relationship is one of protection, of special access to God, and of favor and hope in times of trouble. Those persons who are faithful to the LORD can cry out to him when things get rough, and they can have faith and trust that he will hear him.

But the wicked are not so (Ps 1.4). Their relationship is a precarious one, as their lives are in danger if they do not repent and turn from evil. God opposes those who live in evil -- who murder, who steal, who destroy households, who try to take advantage of the poor, and so on -- and they cannot anticipate a good end to their life, if they should not repent. Therefore he gives people his Law, so that they can know right from wrong, and how to live justly.

What kind of a person are you? What kind of a person am I? It is up to me to decide this. Though we are born in sin, which the Old Testament does not deny, yet it equally places upon every person the call and the responsibility to abandon sin and to pursue righteousness: Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it (Ps 34.14). The New Testament puts even greater weight on this teaching by its doctrine of judgment and resurrection: because life does not end at the grave but continues on into eternity through the resurrection, it is always and everywhere of utmost importance that we live aright. Because as Christ said, the resurrection will be different for each person: those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5.29).

This might seem too extreme for some persons, even unfair. But I agree with Joseph Ratzinger when he says: Human life is fully serious (Eschatology, p. 216). That is what the doctrines of the judgment and resurrection teach us: that life is serious business, and we do well to take it seriously.

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