The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip. Psalm 37
I spent my working life a prof, was one for more years than I’ve been anything else but father and husband. I think I know at least some of our collective strengths, and weaknesses.
One of my students, years ago, used a line of dialogue in a short story that I’ve never forgotten. A father, a pastor, was talking to his son (it may be of passing interest that the writer was the son of a pastor whose church was full of professors). This pastor/father told his son something to this effect: “the thing about profs is that they get so accustomed to people listening to them all the time that they actually start to believe they have something worthwhile to say.”
I loved that line since first it made its way into my mind, and it’s been stuck there ever since.
Profs, at least by my experience, are by nature headstrong. They may not be bullying or unbending or, as the dictionary says of headstrong, “rashly willful,” but they’re well-practiced at thinking things through—or at least working at thinking things through. If they didn’t treasure ideas, ideas wouldn’t be their stock-in-trade. They are “people of the head.”
Our pastor once told the story of a group of profs standing somewhere outside of two doors. One of those doors was marked “God,” the other “Discussion about God.” You can guess which door the profs entered.
It’s interesting, I guess, that David makes the claim he does here—that the law of God is in the heart of the righteous. Maybe if I knew the original language, I could check to see if the translation is accurate; but a quick check of this verse’s rendering in a number of other translations shows the very same intent—the feet of the righteous do not slip because the law of God is in the heart. Not head. His law is in the heart.
And I suppose it’s interesting that people rarely, if ever, use a word like “heart-knowledge.” People frequently use the phrase “by heart,” as in knowing “by heart,” but even that isn’t all that common anymore, in an age when most educators have come to agree that forcing children to memorize is cruel and unusual punishment.
My own native Calvinism argues that the verse itself promises something that simply isn’t true: no one has God’s own love so deeply embedded within that he or she doesn’t slip up once in awhile. I’m not perfect, and I’m no “Perfectionist.” For that matter, neither are most Methodists, despite what John Wesley might have preached.
Here, as elsewhere, methinks, David’s words add up to something that’s more true than the sum of its parts. The prof in me finagles the words until they deconstruct. But the believer in me—and not the doctrinalist—knows, as if by heart, what the truth is.
And I know it because I know people, and I’ve known ordinary people who, by their own estimation, I’m sure, never came close to being “perfect,” but whose heart, by all outward appearances at least, knew God so fully that only rarely—at least by my perception—did they do much slipping up. I can think of a few, but they’d be deathly embarrassed if I’d name them.
Anyway, I wish I could get there. David’s promise here is an ideal, a moving target. But that doesn’t mean that even this old prof —likely too full of head-knowledge—can’t set his sights on what David’s promising, and, with big steadiness of grace, give it my best shot.
That’s really an inappropriate metaphor, don’t you think? I do, but then I’m an old prof.