Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Santa-god and Psalm 44

He's making a list,And checking it twice;Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice.

Good little boys and girls can be assured that if they are good then Santa Claus will bring them presents.  But the bad little boys and girls had better shape up because Santa Claus is coming to town and these little sprouts are going to have hell to pay.  No toys for these little minions they’ll be getting coals and spankings or at best that nasty fruitcake. 

If Christians are faithful then God will bless them.  He will give them presents like peace, prosperity, and healthy relationships.  When we turn our back on biblical principles this is when we are robbed of peace, prosperity, and our relationships become fractured.  But we can be assured that if we are nice rather than naughty the Lord (who sees us when we are sleeping even) will reward us well. 

You can extend this to a national level and say that when a nation is faithful to the Lord by allowing prayer in schools, keeping 10 Commandments and nativity scenes on the courthouse lawn, and making sure that our money mentions God then we will have prosperity, increased jobs, a better economy, and all the things that our good God-fearing nation would desire.

Now before I make my point it is important that you do not hear what I am not saying.  I think God does ultimately desire peace, prosperity, and healthy relationships, and ultimately I believe those will belong to those that are faithful to Him.  God does bless obedience.  Obedience is a good thing.  But… 

How does the above mentioned Santa-god fit into Psalm 44? 

The logic of Santa-god and Psalm 44

In verses 1-8 the sons of Korah remind the nation of the power of God displayed in their history.  They remind the people that if they are to have victory and salvation it will come through the Lord and not their own efforts.  Verse 8 ends with, “In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever”. 

For the first eight verses it sounds like Santa-god is standing on pretty solid biblical grounds.  If we were using logic it would look like this:

(A) As he has shown in the past, God blesses those that are faithful
(B) The Sons of Korah are being faithful
(C.) Therefore, the Sons of Korah will experience God’s blessing

But that is not what the equation looks like in Psalm 44:9.  Instead it is this:

(A) As he has shown in the past, God blesses those that are faithful
(B) The Sons of Korah are being faithful
(C.) “But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies”. 

Instead of “blessing” the people experience tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword.  They are “sold for a trifle”.  They have become a “laughingstock”, their face is “covered with shame” and they have become like “sheep for the slaughter”. 

Perhaps I am simply forgetting the other equation.  Certainly their situation is a result of their unfaithfulness.  This must be their equation:

(A) God punishes iniquity and does not bless those that are unfaithful
(B) Those living in the days of the sons of Korah are not being blessed
(C.) Therefore, the sons of Korah must be unfaithful

The only problem with that “loophole” is that according to Scripture the sons of Korah have not been “false to your covenant”.  They have not turned their hearts away from the Lord.  They have not departed from the ways of the Lord.  They aren’t talking sinless perfection here, they know they aren’t sinless; but they have remained faithful to the covenant.  And yet, “for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered”. 

Romans 8 and Psalm 44

It is interesting that Paul quotes Psalm 44 in the midst of Romans 8.  Honestly it seems like a weird (almost self-contradictory) place to quote Psalm 44.  At the end of Romans 8 Paul is asking the question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  He then lists all those really bad things like tribulation, danger, sword, etc. and then quotes Psalm 44.  Why?

Paul is looking back to Psalm 44 at the experience of the sons of Korah and instructing us that believers will face mockery and suffering; such is, as Schreiner notes, the “lot of Christians”.  Believers will suffer and it is not because they aren’t being faithful or that they aren’t having enough faith but precisely because God loves them. 

In the midst of Psalm 44 the congregation is invited to join the psalmist in praying for the Lord’s redemption.  Romans 8 is no different.  It is placed there with Psalm 44 to infuse us with hope that in the midst of suffering and difficulty we can take heart that there is no place so low where the love of Christ does not reach the believer.  The suffering that we experience is not necessarily a sign of the Lord’s disfavor but is perhaps a sign of his profound love and grace.

Somehow the pain of Psalm 44 or Romans 8 is not divorced from the depth of God’s love.  This experience is not meant to separate us from the Lord but in actuality the banner that is placed over-top of this suffering is “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”. 

Not just conquerors.  More than conquerors.  To conquer it would be to get through something, to achieve victory over it, to slay it.  At the end of “conquering” this suffering would be a statement like, “whew, I am really glad that is over”.  But the text goes further than merely conquering.  It says more than conquerors. 

“More than conquerors” means that somehow God turns horrible things like suffering and death into good.  Those that are “more than a conquerors” would say things like, “that was really difficult and I would not necessarily desire to go through it again, but it has deepened my relationship with Christ, increased my capacity for joy, and brought me into a greater conformity with Christ.” 

The problem with Santa-god  

There are many problems with the Santa-god moralism that wears the mask of concerned Christianity, but I want to quickly note three.  The first and perhaps the worst is that he rips us off by distracting us with fleeting pleasures.  With Santa-god the goal to obedience does not become greater conformity to Christ, greater enjoyment of God as God-belittling sin no longer distracts us from relishing the Lord.  With Santa-god the goal to obedience is a bigger house, cheaper gas for your car, and more gold buried in your backyard.  What a rip off.  God offers eternal pleasure of infinite joy.  I’m not buying this shoddy promise that Santa-god is promising. 

Secondly, if we take this on a national level Santa-god causes lots of fighting.  If Santa-god looks at us as a nation to see if we are being naughty or nice then those darn liberals not letting baby Jesus silently sleep in the courthouse lawn are causing me to be put on that naughty list.  I’ll fight these loser to the death because they are robbing me of the fleeting pleasures that Santa-god is promising us if we would only be good. 

Lastly, Santa-god creates moralism in the midst of brokenness instead of shining a light on the only source of hope.  The message of Santa-god to a suffering sinner is simply, “repent, get up out of the mess, and do better next time”.  He offers moralism as the solution to brokenness.  But not Jesus.  Jesus offer complete redemption.  Jesus whispers to the suffering, “nothing is going to stop me from loving you”.  He comes into the midst of brokenness, changes our hearts, and while he still calls to repentance he also infuses our hearts with hope, love, and grace to accomplish the task He calls us to fulfill. 

Individually and corporately we need Jesus.  We cry out with the sons of Korah, “Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!” But we, as the sons of Korah could only know partially, know that Jesus Christ did “rise up” and he has redeemed us for the sake of His steadfast love!  And we know now that there is nothing that can separate us from His love.  Our crying now is for the not-yet to become the already! 

1 comment:

  1. I think the danger hidden in this is the flip side of coin - that is namely the martyr/victim complex (personality characteristics)

    If thing's aren't going bad for you, then you aren't living as you should because look at Korah - they were abused. Look at Paul - he was abused. The list goes on and on.

    I'm glad God is there whether I'm strong or weak. Whether I'm a son of Korah in the depths of some despair, or on the mountain tops of prosperity. Either way, God is with me.



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