Paparazzi

I have limited experience with paparazzi, but the amount of time I spend glancing at the National Inquirer in grocery lines is enough to gather the basics.

There are people who spend a great deal of time studying and stalking the lives of high profile people simply to steal a fleeting glance or an off-center camera shot. They know the rhythms and preferences of the subjects they seek to find – the coffee shops, malls and vacation destinations they frequent, the times they get up and go to sleep and other seemingly extraneous details – in order to get a passing glance at said subject.

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Last night I studied Psalm 119. When I first came to faith, I loved this psalm for its fierce excitement, zeal and resolve. The psalmist makes many bold, sweeping declarations of intent.

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to the Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. Psalm 119:9-14.

As I have grown in the knowledge of my own inability to keep even the most well-intentioned resolutions, I have grown an aversion to Psalm 119. As I reread parts of the psalm, I found myself alternating between waves of confusion and conviction.

Does the gospel fit into and speak into a psalm with so much focus on law and decree and statute? The psalmist saw only parts of redemption, so what applies to us on the other side of the full revelation of God in the gospel? Are we to be as giddy and excited about the law and the commands as the psalmist? If so, why aren’t we? What sentiment, what state of soul and longing caused the psalmist to pen this meticulous psalm?

It seems that the answer to the latter lies in the deep longing of the writer to know and please God, to live every aspect of life under His smile and steady gaze.

In the time he was writing and musing, the law was the clearest manifestation of the character of God; the commands were merely extensions of the character of God. One can learn a significant amount of information about someone by studying their preferences and aversions, their passions and their pet peeves.

It seems to me that the psalmist was obsessing about the law out of an even deeper desire for and obsession with the God who spoke them. A deep desire for God’s pleasure and presence led him to make vows about keeping His word and following his law down to the littlest detail. It is as if the psalmist is saying, “If this is what God loves, then I want to love it; if God detests this, then I will avoid it at all costs. If God says these are the pathways He frequents, then I want to stay on those paths so I can experience His nearness.”

If this is the case, how does Christ inform this psalm? Is it nullified as an antiquated attempt to please God who cannot be pleased apart from the perfect life and undeserved death of Christ?

When the law-loving Jews of his day questioned what Christ’s life and bold declarations of diety would do the law, the answer came straight from the mouth of Christ himself: “I did not come to abolish the law, but the to fulfill it.”

We don’t get to toss Psalm 119 into a trash heap of ill-informed, immature theology, though our flesh, mine included, would love to do so.

If the psalmist, who only knew bits and pieces of the character and will of God, desired him so deeply, how much more should we, who have the fullest revelation of his character on the cross where love and justice kissed?

In the commands, we have glimpses into the preferences and aversions of the king who loved us enough to live and die for us while we still abhorred him. In the gospels we get a crystal clear, color image of what was a fuzzy, black-and-white image to the psalmist.

We do not obey the commands to find acceptance with God; our acceptance with God was secured for us by Christ. That being said, we do not ignore the law or His commands. Rather, we resolve to follow His commands as they are the clear paths God loves to frequent, the places we are most likely to see and experience Him in this life.

Seen in this light, purity becomes a favorite coffee shop where glimpses of God can be captured; humility becomes a sure fire place where one will find God’s nearness; dying to selfish desires in order to serve others who may not deserve service becomes a regular hangout for the presence of God.

In light of the clarity of God’s character in the cross, we have incredible motivation to want to be the paparazzi of His presence, those who do whatever it takes to be where God frequently shows up.

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