Sunday Stretch: Vol. 41
Start off your week with a grounded take on Bible, prayer, the world, and your life ...
Welcome back to our “usual” version of the Sunday Stretch. April, May, June - and the first Sunday in July - were filled with special editions due to lots of church holidays (like Pentecost and Easter), as well as some biblical reflections on secular holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the Fourth of July. (PS: A reminder that starting Tuesday this week I will be continuing a special book excerpt series on Christian Nationalism. Here’s a link to the introduction video from July 4).
I’m glad to tell you that as we return to our usual format, we have some truly excellent and rich Bible texts to dive right into today. I’m looking forward to reading, studying, and praying together. Let’s get to the texts!
Despite lots of diligent searching, including reverse image search, I have not been able to identify the artist who created this beautiful artwork. Although this image is used all over the web, especially in stories of forgiveness, I also chose it because it speaks powerfully to the nature of God depicted in our first reading, Psalm 145. I will keep trying to find the artwork source and will update you accordingly!
Let’s get to the texts!
Psa. 145:8 The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The LORD is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
Psa. 145:10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
12 to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
The LORD is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
14 The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
I read several commentaries and responses to this Psalm online, and I was struck by how many of them evaluated it through an “anthropological” lens, that is to say that they interpreted it by what it says about humankind, and how we should behave. I read a few articles about how it suggests humans should be slow to anger. And sure, we probably should! But the greatest value of this text (and the knowledge that this description of God in verse 8 is found throughout the Hebrew Bible) - is what it tells us not about ourselves but about God. If we read this Psalm through a “theological” lens, we learn about the character of the God we worship. Rather than immediately jumping to how we can be like God - let us dwell in the knowledge of God’s immense grace, faithfulness, steadfastness, mercy, and patience - and let that knowledge drive our own love of God and love for ourselves and our neighbors.
Questions to Ponder
Can you find the other places in the Hebrew Bible that use this phrasing “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love”?
Why do you think the Bible writers made sure to include these particular attributes of God in several places?
Someone who is slow to anger - especially someone who is considered masculine, as God historically has been in the Christian faith - is oftentimes also considered weak, when they don’t display an angry response. How might this passage cause us to reconsider how God’s strength is made manifest in weakness (recalling last week’s reading from 2 Corinthians 12:8-10)?
Rom. 7:15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Rom. 7:21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
I love this passage. Paul is ever-so-human. How often do we find ourselves, repetitively, not doing what we want, but rather the very think we hate (doom-scrolling ring a bell?)
One powerful piece of this passage is that in some ways it sets us free from unrealistic expectations. Imperfection is part of the human condition.
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