“I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord/ I have no good apart from you.’”
We use extravagant language when we’re in love and that’s how this reads at first: You are my everything, the apple of my eye, the focus of all my desire.
But the psalmist isn’t just expressing the depths of his devotion to God here. He’s reflecting the fundamental nature of reality as personal and good.
The LORD (a personal name for God) is identified as the Lord over the psalmist. This is more than a formal identification – it is the establishing of a weighty relationship with rights, obligations, respect and love.
All that is good comes from God as the creator of all that is. Flowers are beautiful, that is, because God rejoices to make them that way. More than that, as Psalm 16 emphasizes, God protects his people particularly. Because of this relationship, all of the particular goods the psalmist receives he can simply identify as from God.
This cry of love is part of the psalmist reminding himself of all God’s blessings. To me it reads as someone assuring himself in a difficult time. If the Creator, the foundation of reality, is a person that you can call ‘my Lord,’ we can be certain his love will preserve us.
In my current job, we call a lot of people prophets. Progressive religious folks love to think of themselves as playing Moses proclaiming to Pharaoh: “Let my people go!”
But recently I’ve been reading Jeremiah and thinking more of the false prophets. These are the people who assured the King that everything would be well with Israel and that they could continue living in the land and oppressing the poor. They claimed victory when the enemy was besieging Jerusalem and said that a rebellion against their new rulers would prosper.
Notably, they were wrong. Regularly. But people kept listening to them and threw Jeremiah and other true prophets into cisterns, into jails and out of the city because they didn’t want to hear their message.
I think we have some false prophets in our midst today. Not just the folks that John Fea helpfully labels Court Evangelicals – though they are great examples of the category – but also people of any background who keep claiming that things are fine.
While collusion allegations grow stronger: the administration just did what all campaigns would do. When war with North Korea looms: the President is demonstrating strength, the only language that Kim Jong Un understands. When our President has trouble condemning Nazis: he is just trying to bring our nation together and adequately apportion blame.
Such consistent lapses in moral reasoning are a sign of false prophecy. When they are a regular part of a political party’s public stance – as is inevitable when a party needs to defend its morally bankrupt leader – that is a sign that the party has become one of false prophecy. Biblical discernment seems to urge us to stop giving these folks power. In our current two-party system, it is difficult to suss out exactly what that looks like but it seems imperative.
Current political life isn’t ancient Israel. Comparisons of anyone with prophets of any kind are usually a little tired. Still, we have a problem with false prophets today – people who consistently speak with a moral disingenuousness. The proper solution is true discernment: the ability to see the truth, speak it, and act accordingly. I pray that leaders of all kinds demonstrate this kind of prophetic moral voice.
(Latest in a short, unprofessional, series of Psnippets reflecting on Psalms)
Psalms like this combine brutality and grace. We open with a simple question: who can dwell with God. This feels double-barreled: asking both who gets to live in the Temple and who gets to experience closeness with God.
Thankfully, the psalmist quickly answers: people who speak rightly (avoiding lies and slander), who discern rightly (praising and condemning correctly), who act with integrity and who embrace economic justice.
This gives us a snapshot of what is important to cultivate closeness to God but also, if we are honest with ourselves, it oppresses us. I can’t even tell the truth fully to myself, much less my neighbor. I get priorities misplaced all the time. Throughout the list, I see how I fail.
But Jesus. (classic Sunday School answer)
He fulfills all these requirements. And he dwelt with God, enjoying complete communion within the Trinity. But he gave that up, entering into our world so that through union with him we can be united to God. We can dwell on God’s holy hill because we are in Jesus and he is in us. His righteousness counts to us, through no benefit of our own. What would condemn becomes a way to praise Jesus.