Psalm 67; Proverbs 13; 1 Corinthians 15:42–58

Psalm 67: This thanksgiving psalm opens with what we commonly think of as a benediction: “May God grant us grace and bless us,/ may He shine his face upon us.” (2) But when I think about it, it is a perfect opening for worship, which is what this psalm is.

Would that we humans could do what the next verses describe; that God would be acknowledged and worshipped throughout the entire world: “To know on the earth Your way,/ among all the nations Your rescue.” (3) These  are the two key elements of worship: that we know God is Creator and that God is the loving source of redemption and salvation for all humankind. If only we would follow “Your way.”

The next verses describe earth and humankind as they would have been in God’s original created order, a world-wide Eden, if you will, because God remains at the center of human existence: “Nations acclaim You, O God,/ all peoples acclaim You./ Nations rejoice in glad song.” (4,5). Alas, we humans decided to make ourselves the center of the universe, and the resultant mess we have made of creation and relationships is woeful evidence of how disordered our sinful self-centeredness is.

I’m reminded of the throne room scene in Revelation as people gather and “Nations acclaim You, O God,/ all peoples acclaim You.” (6) We pray for the eventual end of history and the restoration of God’s created order, where love reigns supreme.

Proverbs 13: As we read this catalog of sayings, it’s easy to see that human nature has not changed one whit in the millennia since they were written down (and doubtless existed as oral sayings for hundreds of years before that.) Each verse is a study in opposition as righteous and the wicked are set against each other through the entire chapter: “The righteous hate falsehood,/ but the wicked act shamefully and disgracefully.” (5). And many of these verses resonate strongly in our culture: “Some pretend to be rich, yet have nothing;/ others pretend to be poor, yet have great wealth.” (7)–which seems especially apropos in the 94598 ZIP code.

Of course it is the penultimate verse that is the most widely known in popular culture: “Those who spare the rod hate their children,/ but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.” (24) Our culture has conflated the “rod” with child abuse and there is no doubt that parents have done that. But that is not really the focus of the verse. We say “spare the rod, spoil the child,” but the real theme is love and its relation to discipline. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with discipline, and the evidence of its absence is all around us.

One of the great ironies of modern culture is that where parental discipline is absent, the child will seek it out itself: the gang culture and even prison culture are perfect examples of perverted discipline. I do not know of any single person who has gone through military basic training that has regretted the lessons learned there. Yes, discipline is tough and it is not fun, but the consequences of not understanding boundaries and good order are severe–both for the individual and for society.

1 Corinthians 15:42–58: I’m sure Paul’s words here have resulted in more misinterpretation than just about anything else he wrote. It has become a source of the idea of the Rapture, where all good Christians will be raised to heaven: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (52). But in its context, I think Paul is attempting to describe the indescribable (and I think history would have been better off had he not tried!).

The question from Corinth that he has obviously held off answering until the very end of his letter is what happens to our bodies when we die. And it is the nature of this resurrection body upon which Paul speculates. Paul tries out a couple of explanations.

First, he sets up oppositions (sort of like Proverbs!) between our bodies that are and those that will be: perishable/imperishable; dishonor/honor; weakness/power. And then: physical/ spiritual. On which he elaborates by juxtaposing earth and heaven: “the first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man [Jesus Christ] is from heaven.” (47) as he asserts, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (48)

But Paul knows this explanation will not satisfy his audience so he takes a different explanatory tack, at least admitting it’s a mystery: “We will not all die,[d] but we will all be changed.” (51) Unfortunately, too many people have left off the “mystery” part and boldly concluded that something they call the Rapture is prophetic fact. Even to the silly point of predicting when it will happen.

In the end, all Paul can say is that “this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (53). And he leaves it at that. As should we.

Rather than focusing on exactly what our bodies will become, Paul tells us to not fear death, quoting Isaiah: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (54). Which is where I think we should leave the mystery, and stop trying to assert we know what will happen at the end of history.

 

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