Monday, March 03, 2008

Psalm 27: Breathing Violence

"...for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence." (v.12)

"Breathing out violence," perhaps no two words in Scripture more dramatically capture the powerfully damaging presence of sin than these two words. Imagine a human being, who was made in the image of God, made for loving worship of the Lord and loving community with others, getting to the place where they've fallen so far from God's original intention that they actually exhale violence! You don't have to look very far to see the dramatic damage that sin does to human beings. The high rate of divorce, the violence that is present in every major city in Western culture, the scourge of physical and sexual abuse of children, and something as common as the high level of conflict that exists in all of our relationships in one form or another.

You may be thinking, "Paul, I'm not sure how it's going to help me to think about all of these terrible things." Here's what's important about these two scary words and what they depict; you and I will never understand and celebrate the magnitude of God's transforming grace until we understand the deep damage that sin does to the human heart. You see, sin isn't about human beings being basically okay and just needing a little tweaking in order to be what they were meant to be and do what they were meant to do. No, the damage of sin reaches to every area of our personhood, deeply altering what we think and what we desire.

Isn't it a stunning fact that after Adam and Eve fell, the very next generation was stained with sibling homicide! And consider what Genesis 6:5 says about the impact of sin on human culture. "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of his heart was only evil all the time." Let that divine report of the damage of sin on the human heart sink in, "that every inclination of his heart was only evil all the time!" Could the statement be any stronger? This is what sin does. Its effect is so pervasive and so comprehensive that it influences everything we do and everything we say. It causes us to think, desire, choose, say, and do things that are the polar opposite of the way we were created to function. So, we don't actually love our neighbor. No, we're jealous of him, or we see him as an obstacle in the way of what we want, or we treat him as an adversary, or we ignore him altogether. And we don't love God with our whole hearts. No, we put creation in his place. We'd rather have the temporary pleasure of physical things than the eternal satisfactions that can only be found in him. Sin causes us to place ourselves at the center of our universe. Sin causes us to be obsessed with what we feel, what we want, and what we think we need. Sin causes us to set up our own little kingdom of one, where our desire is the functional law of the land. And as little kings, we want to co-opt the people around us into the service of our kingdom purposes, and when they refuse or unwittingly get in the way of what we want we rage against them. Sometimes it's the quiet rage of bitterness. Sometimes it's the vocal rage of angry and condemning words, and sometimes it's the physical rage of actual acts of violence against another. This is what sin does to all of us.

In light of the fact that sin brings all of us to the point that we all "exhale violence" in some form at some time, it's amazing how much peace and cooperation exists in our relationships. What's the explanation for this apparent contradiction? It can be said in one word: grace. There's not a day where you and yours are not protected by the most powerful, protective, and beneficial force in the universe; the grace of God. Every situation, location, and relationship you're in every day is made livable and tolerable by his grace. In the majesty of his love, God causes his grace to restrain us, just as he causes the sun and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. Why does he do this? He does it because of his great love and for the sake of his own glory.

This means the every day you experience the power of his grace. Every day God keeps us all from being as wicked as we have the potential to be. And if he would for a moment withdraw his hand of grace, this world would explode into chaos and violence unlike anything any of us could conceive. You see, you only ever begin to really celebrate grace when you begin to understand how deep and pervasive the effects of sin are. As Jesus said when that woman washed his feet with her hair, "The one who has been forgiven much, loves much."

Take time to consider the ravages of sin on us all because when you do, you'll leave with a deeper appreciation of grace than you've ever had. And that appreciation won't only cause praise to come out of your mouth, but it will also change the way you live.

2 Comments:

At 8:41 PM, Anonymous Phil Henry said...

Paul, good observation on this graphic phrase. I think in this word we really do have a great description of the destructive power of anger and sin.

I love the graphic imagery of the Old Testament, generally, and of the Psalms, specifically.

One point that strengthens your view here is that the context is one of broken relationships: "Though my father and my mother forsake me..." David prays to His only Friend, His God, who will "lead me on a level path" and protect him "from the will of his adversaries."

Forsaken, and alone, it is the hope of heaven ("I will look on the goodness of the Lord") that sustains us. Turning to anger and violence, our natural inclination, makes us like one of God's enemies, and when we act like enemies, we cut ourselves off from hope!

 
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