“But who can detect his own failings?”
The thing that continues to catch my attention in this psalm is the epic simile of the sun coming forth from a tent like a bridegroom from a chamber to run like a champion his course. That image always catches my eye. It is so visual and so fascinating to me. The sun comes forth from a tent, like a bridegroom coming from a chamber who is like a champion delighting in a course to be run. This is an epic simile involving another simile… And those images: the sun having a tent, the bridegroom having a special chamber, and the champion eager to run. So simple and so clear and so memorable. Plus, it makes me think about the ancient people who wrote the psalms. What kind of champions did they have back then? Did the Hebrew people have their own kind of Olympics? And what kind of chamber or pavilion or secret room did the bridegroom come out of… I think we know why he was filled with delight… but, it is an image our modern culture associates more with the bride than the groom. For me, it is just a very memorable image; it feels almost Homeric. One can imagine Odysseus or Hector being described like this, perhaps Apollo, or Athena. So, despite the fact that I have read this psalm 19 or 20 times now, I still pause and ponder this little 2 stanza section (19:4-6). Perhaps it is the last line of these 2 stanzas that really stops me in my tracks. The psalmist circles back to the original image of the sun and writes:
“…And nothing can escape its heat.” (19:6)
Psalm 19 is a psalm of God’s glory, a song of how that glory is revealed. It starts by reminding us that the glory of God is revealed in all of creation, through all of creation. And that God’s creation declares His glory, even in the silence of a moonless night, or the stillness of an empty street, the quiet stirrings of mist rising from a field at dawn or the migration of clouds on a summer afternoon. God’s glory is present, is always being declared, by the grass, by the mist, by the clouds, by the shadows crossing your lawn, by the birds singing in the trees and by the silences, the stillness, even the darkness. This declaration is followed by the epic simile and that terrifyingly powerful statement against ignorance: “Nothing can escape its heat…”
That statement implies that God’s glory is inescapable, like the heat of the sun. We might hide in the shade, we might run inside and turn on the AC, but we haven’t escaped, we cannot escape it. We know the heat is out there, and we know that it is why we are inside sipping ice-tea and snuggled on the couch under a blanket while the air-conditioning blasts a nice chilly 64 degrees. Yet, as the psalmist says: Just like there is no escape from the truth that it is hot out there, there is no escape from the truth of God’s glory. Of course, to the psalmist, this is a good thing. He is assuring us that it is true and we just have to open our eyes and our hearts to see it, to know it, to have creation itself affirm it for us.
But there are two more things attached to this idea, of God’s inescapable glory. First there is that simile—comparing the declaration of God’s glory to the sun’s heat; asserting that both are inescapable. That is a truth we can run away from all we want, but our denial or our running away doesn’t change the fact that it is true. At least that is what the psalmist says, and I agree. But then that image of the sun’s heat, that also catches my eye. And I ask myself: what is God’s glory? It is His very being. And what is God’s being? Well, scripture tells us: God is love. And so, what I hear in this is: the glory of God is God’s Love. And nothing can escape from that.
And I believe that is true, too. And so I push a little harder against the text, the Word of God, and ask God to open my eyes that I can read it more clearly, to open my ears that I can hear His message more completely, and to open my heart that I will be filled with His glory—His love—the love that is always found in His word. And I ask myself: what does this image of God’s inescapable love tell me about God? About our relationship to God? I think one thing I am hearing is this: we cannot escape from God’s love. No matter who we are, no matter what we do; we cannot escape from God’s love. That seems to me a powerful clue to the truth of sin and the importance of God’s law (cf. 19: 7-14). What I hear is this: if God’s love is inescapable, then that tells us something surprisingly clear about Heaven and Hell. They are both within God’s love, manifestations of God’s burning love. And it is our choice what we make of God’s love. If we seek God, if we shape our souls to long for the warmth of God’s love, then to enter into that love will be heaven. It will be everything we ever wanted and so much more. If we train our souls to turn away from God’s love, if we seek to hide from it, then entering into the fullness of God’s love will feel like the flames of Hell. It is our soul's desire that makes of it Heaven or Hell. BUT… think about how hard it is sometimes to get yourself off the couch and go outside on a particularly hot afternoon; sometimes we need to prepare ourselves, get ourselves ready for the brightness of the sun, the heat of the day. Sometimes just stepping out into the light can be blinding and feel oppressive. I wonder if that is what God’s laws are for. Are they recommendations and practices, kind of an exercise regime, to help us prepare our souls for grace? Stretching our spiritual muscles and opening our sometimes hardened hearts, stirring within us a desire for God's love? The psalmist tells us that the law of the Lord refreshes the soul, brings joy to the heart, and light to our eyes. It is sweeter than honey and more valuable than gold. Okay… what if we take God at His word and let ourselves be formed by the Love of God, sweeter than honey, light for our eyes, joy for our hearts. What if we opened that door by taking just one of God’s laws and saying—this is one I will be shaped by. Any of them. You could start with the 10 commandments, or perhaps you want to start somewhere a little more familiar to some of us: the sermon on the mount. Me, I’m thinking about one of Jesus’s more humbling statements: Judge not, lest ye be judged… I think that is a place where my prideful heart might need a little reforming. And yet, as the psalmist also says: Who among us can detect his own failings?
Certainly not me... But that doesn't mean I should stop trying.