Click here for General Assembly coverage

God’s Word brings hope (July 21, 2024)

Letarshia C. Robinson writes about learning God's law.

Psalm 119:73-80

Is it enough to simply learn God’s commandments? If we repeat the Ten Commandments, for example, over and over until they are stuck in our heads like a commercial jingle, will it do us any good? What if we, as they recently signed into law in Louisiana, hang the commandments on public school walls? Will that action result in more faithful disciples or produce more respect for the “rule of law”?  Perhaps there is something more at work when we follow God’s law. Perhaps when we follow God’s law, we are invited into deeper relationship with God.

Rules and laws govern almost every context of our lives. There are laws for how we are to live in society and community with each other. There are laws for how we navigate traffic. There are rules for schools and rules for homes. There are even rules by which the church governs itself. For society to work, everyone is expected to follow the rules or expect consequences. Laws are often presented in a punitive way: if someone breaks a law, a punishment awaits. Human laws, while imperfect and sometimes unjust, are designed to instill fear of punishment and deter us from transgression.

In Psalm 119:73-80, the psalmist recounts the importance of knowing God’s law, with the understanding that God’s law is present not to establish fear in followers, but to establish relationship with God. That’s the difference between human laws and God’s law. God’s law comes with the gift of God’s presence! In verse 73, the psalmist recognizes the Creator whose “hands have made and fashioned me.” His notion of being both “made” and “fashioned” by the Creator’s “hands” adds an extra layer of emphasis. God gives extra detailed attention to the creation of humans, as the psalmist explores. As such, the psalmist pleads for the Creator to open a path for him to learn the Creator’s commandments. In learning the commandments of the Lord, the psalmist comes to place his trust in God.

The psalmist depends on the word of the Lord. It is in the word that the psalmist hopes (v. 74). In a world of trouble, where hope is often scarce, the psalmist declares his confidence in God’s word. As a result of the psalmist’s hope, he becomes a blessing to others: “those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,” the psalmist says (v. 74). After having received grace for himself, the psalmist becomes a witness to those who fear the Lord — to those who recognize God, reverence God, and humbly respond to God’s love and forgiveness.

It can be a joyful experience to converse with believers who, in the face of adversity, still have hope. This week, I had the opportunity to sit with families as they grieve the loss of loved ones and the loss of the former vibrancy of their lives. As I stood with one person on the farm their parents built, we felt the peace present in the warm gentle breeze. Both their parents are now gone, yet they rejoiced because they placed their hope in the word and the law of God had become their delight. This was something their parents had modeled for them. Mercy had come to my friend, evidenced by their calm amid the storm of death. Was grief present? It was. However, the “steadfast love” of the Lord was also present, and it had become their comfort according to God’s promise (v.76).

Here’s what I’m wondering: What if, instead of emphasizing rote memorization, we ask the living God, directly, to teach us and give us understanding of God’s laws so that we may learn God’s ways? That’s what the psalmist does (v. 73). In learning God’s commandments, the psalmist positions himself as a humble student of God’s word, not for moral high ground, but for relationship with God.

Because the psalmist has a relationship with God, he spends his life practicing the law of God with faithfulness, hope and love. He does not memorize God’s law for the sake of memorizing God’s law. Rather, he has a relationship with God, and this relationship is what integrates his desires with God’s desires. You see, God doesn’t ask us to follow a list of regulations. God desires us to seek a relationship with the Almighty. When we do, we will find that God’s law is written on our hearts. This is what matters.

Questions for reflection

  1. How do the Ten Commandments shape your Christian life?
  2. Describe ways that the word has given you hope in times of trouble. Have others witnessed your hope in the Lord? If so, how have they responded?

Want to receive lectionary content in your inbox on Mondays? Sign up here.