Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Morning Meds--Begging Bread

“I was young and now I am old, 
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken 
or their children begging bread.”
Psalm 37

“Piety gave birth to prosperity,” Cotton Mather once wrote (or words similar to those), “and the child devoured the mother.”  But then, Cotton Mather really believed that his beloved Puritan theocracy got shipwrecked by the diminished righteousness of the children of New England’s “visible saints.”  The new-found wealth of the second and third generations of the Puritans simply destroyed orthodoxy and faith itself. 

He may have been right, of course, but then, as President Bill Clinton might say, a whole lot depends on what one means by righteousness.

We could twist this verse of Psalm 37 into something entirely different from what David likely intended if we listened to European history or, for that matter, Professor Max Weber, who, a century ago already, argued that capitalism and its myriad excesses descended, in no small part, from the Protestant work ethic. It goes like this: great piety creates a deep sense of calling, commitment to task; but once the piety fades, what’s left the industry, the work ethic; and that work ethic is the dynamo that empowers capitalism. 

Odd to think of Max Weber and Cotton Mather sitting down somewhere and agreeing, but their arguments aren’t that distanced. And those arguments are a far cry from what King David claims to have experienced in his life. The children of the righteous, Mather and Weber might argue, don’t beg, not because of God’s faithfulness, but because they come heir to generous fortunes created by their righteous parents’ commitment to work.
Throughout the psalms, it’s not so common to hear David reflect in the way he does here—as if he’s sitting in Sun City, fingers arched over a keyboard, reflecting on the life that stretches behind him. I like that picture. He’s trying his best to convince us of the basic melody of the whole song—that God almighty loves the righteous fully as much as he hates the wicked. And what’s crucial in Psalm 37 is that you can see it—that’s his point. You can see it all around, if you just look. Observe the plight of the wicked and the prosperity of the righteous, he says. In all my life I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken, or their children begging bread, he says.

End of story.

But even Charles Spurgeon has his doubts about what we might call David’s hyperbolic claim. Spurgeon says that what David sees may well be what he saw during his lifetime, but it’s not what Spurgeon observed. Nor can I say that it’s what I’ve seen. Good people suffer. Good people readily feel forsaken—and often. In hurricanes and floods and wars and persecution, good people are swept out of their homes by tidal surges that seem brewed up only by the Devil, not the loving hands of God. Bad things happen to good people.

But our doubt of the specifics here, or of David’s rhetoric, “does not cast doubt upon the observation of David,” Spurgeon says with reference to this verse. “Never are the righteous forsaken,” he writes; “that is a rule without exception.”

David isn’t so much stretching the truth as he is pounding it home. What’s behind his almost unbelievable claims is the central truth of God’s love to those who love him: “Be not afraid.”

Here and everywhere in scripture, that’s the bottom line. Sometimes, in scripture as in life, you’ve got to get behind the words to find the truth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What about those Christian children we have been hearing about who were starving and isolated on that mountain in the Mideast. I guess they were no longer hungry after the Americans dropped some food and water for them. I heard that hundreds of those Christians were killed because they would not abandon their faith in Jesus as their Savior. What would David have to say about all the stuff that is happening today in the Holy lands?