• The Explore the Bible lesson for July 23 focuses on Psalm 136:1-5, 10-15, 23-26.
Throughout most of our lives, it is likely we likely have heard more sermons and lessons on the importance of being committed to God than on any other subject. Those lessons were important but, sadly, may have been taught at the expense of something even more important.
Celebrate the steadfast love of God
As vital as it is that we should be committed to God, it is even more important that we first acknowledge and celebrate God’s commitment to us. Only in certainty of God’s “steadfast love forever” can we possibly arrive at a point of total trust in God. God’s commitment to us is the only basis for our trust in God.
Reading Psalm 136 is like reading a short history of the people of Israel. The author takes the reader from creation to the exodus of the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt and beyond.
Every section of this wonderful psalm establishes all the works of God on the basis of what is celebrated in its first verse: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
In a healthy marriage, one partner loves the other, in part, because of the faithfulness of each spouse for the other. Lack of certainty about that love incubates suspicion until—too often—the marriage doesn’t survive. In a marriage where each spouse has absolute trust in the love of the other, that marriage can endure incomprehensible trials. Love breeds love, and trust breeds trust.
Understanding life in retrospect
The mid-19th century Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, once wrote that “life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forward.” The point being that it is often very difficult, if not impossible, to understand why life is hard or painfully difficult in the moment we’re living it.
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It may take years or even decades for us to gain an appropriate understanding of life after we’ve lived it. In time, through the eyes of faith, we can see the hand of God at work. As Paul said in Romans 8, “We know that in all things work together for good” in the hands of a merciful and loving God who is committed to our redemption.
In this psalm, the writer chooses to interpret all of life and even history as demonstrations, in one way or another, of the faithfulness of God to us, even when we are not faithful to him.
Parents often must deal with their children in what are painful acts of discipline. Children may express deep anger or even feign hatred of their parents for their discipline. Only with the perspective of time, usually when they become parents, are children able to look back and see that what they once perceived as bitter experiences of discipline were actually acts of parental love.
As my testimony of God’s faithfulness matured with time, I came to appreciate even more the “steadfast love” of God for me. I often tell people there is very little about my life that looks anything like what I thought it would at this point. Looking back, however, I now see that the worst that ever happened to me, in the hands of a loving God, became instruments of God’s mercy. I now thank God that my life didn’t turn out the way I planned but the way God intended it.
An important lesson from a seminary classroom
In seminary, I had the privilege of being in the class of a professor who was suffering terminal cancer. In time, his body was so weak and painful, he had to teach from a stool.
One day, he shared his testimony of the faithfulness of God. He said: “There is nothing that comes into our lives without God’s permission. And, if it comes with his permission, it also comes with his love.” Of all the things I learned in seminary and later forgot, that is one lesson that was branded on my heart so profoundly I’ll never forget it.
In every act of creation, it is possible to see not only the handiwork of God but also “steadfast love” of God. In every event of history, with the perspective that only time allows, we can see the faithfulness of God.
Nonetheless, beyond seeing it, it’s important to celebrate that love of God by sharing it, as the psalmist did, by sharing it with others.
Looking through the right lenses
We all see the world through a certain set of lenses, like eyeglasses prescribed uniquely for us. Sometimes, we must take off an old set of glasses that no longer give us a realistic perspective of the world and put on new lenses that sharpen our focus.
One of the single most important decisions we will ever make is what set of glasses we will wear in order to see the world and all happenings in it. We can choose to see the world through the eyes of bitterness and cynicism or self-centeredness. Or we can choose to see all of life through the lenses that only faith in the steadfast love of God makes possible.
It’s our choice, which set of lenses we will wear. The psalmist has given us a wonderful option, that of seeing the world and our place in it through the lenses of the steadfast love of God that lasts forever.
Glen Schmucker is a hospice chaplain in Fort Worth.