Psalm 66:16–20; Proverbs 12; 1 Corinthians 15:29–41

Originally published 5/19/2017. Revised and updated 5/18/2019.

Psalm 66:16–20: This final stanza is the poet’s personal testimony to other all those around him about how he called to God aloud:
Come listen and let me recount,
all you who fear God,
what He did for me.
To Him with my mouth I called out,
exaltation on my tongue. (16, 17)

He adds the essential detail that our hearts need to be pure when we call on God. We cannot come to God with hidden agendas:
Had I seen mischief in my heart,
the Master would not have listened. (18)

This is wise advice. Too often, I have prayed to understand what God would have me do or say in a given situation, while all the time having exactly what I plan to do or say already firmly in my mind. Calling on God with a preconceived outcome then just becomes a hypocritical cover story. In short, pretending before God gets us nowhere. Nor can we then blame God for not listening.

As for our poet, who has come to God with a pure heart, he’s quite happy because:
God indeed has listened,
Hearkened to the sound of my prayer. (19)

And when we know God has heard our honest entreaties, we can certainly say with the psalmist:
Blessed is God
Who has not turned away my prayer nor His kindness from me.” (20)

These verses present two challenges: The first is to pray without an agenda about the outcome. God may have something quite different in mind than what we think should happen. The second is being able to discern that God has indeed heard us. And this happens only when we pray with an open, pure, and sincere heart.

Proverbs 12: No surprise here. The seemingly endless list of aphorisms in apparently random order continues apace. We cannot chide the author for dancing around the issues. Living in our own era where people ignore elephants in the room, his bluntness is really quite refreshing. Some highlights that resonated with me follow.

The opening statement sets the tone for the chapter:
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
    but whoever hates correction is stupid. (1)

The many times that have I resented being corrected (usually by Susan) is proof of my stupidity.

No chapter in this book would be complete without some references to the power and danger of speech (and Facebook posts and tweets):
The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,
    but the speech of the upright rescues them. (6)
The Lord detests lying lips,
    but he delights in people who are trustworthy. (22)

Those who love animals are more likely to re righteous among others:
The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
    but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel. (10)

Promises made by the righteous are followed by corresponding deeds:
From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things,
    and the work of their hands brings them reward. (14)

Some of these aphorisms are statements of the obvious and have low information content:
An honest witness tells the truth,
    but a false witness tells lies. (17)

And some statements just seem overly optimistic to me. Would that life were this simple:
No harm overtakes the righteous,
    but the wicked have their fill of trouble.” (21)

The righteous may overcome in the very long run, but it sure seems like the wicked have the upper hand more of the time.

While the truth of some statements seems obvious, they bear repeating as constant reminders. There are two that strike me in particular:
Anxiety weighs down the heart,
but a kind word cheers it up. (25)
The righteous choose their friends carefully,
but the way of the wicked leads them astray.

The chapter concludes on a higher level of abstraction with a general truth that while not theologically correct for us (our immortality comes through faith in Jesus Christ), they nevertheless bear repeating:
In the way of righteousness there is life;
    along that path is immortality. (28)

Or as I might prefer to put it, “a life lived following a path of righteousness is the fuller, richer life.”

We may snicker at these endless couplets, but their intrinsic truth cannot be ignored. They are also a reminder that human nature is the great constant and not subject to evolutionary improvement absent Jesus’ salvific power. We face the same challenges and issues today as those who lived in Solomon’s time. Which is why we would do well to read Proverbs in the first place.

1 Corinthians 15:29–41: Just when I thought Paul couldn’t get any denser… Paul asks rhetorically, “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” (29) I have no idea what he’s really getting at here. This is one of those places where I wish we had the original letter from Corinth so we could see exactly what question Paul is answering. I believe this verse may also provide some justification to Mormons who baptize their dead relatives.

However, Paul is clear that our life must depend on much more than our own self-centered hopes and actions, which are expressed neatly in the saying from Isaiah 22 that he quotes here:
If the dead are not raised, [then all we can say is]:

“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.” (32)

With Paul we know that we want to live a life more meaningful than an endless frat party. But one of the great social tragedies of our age is how many lives are wasted by an obsession with having a good time in the here and now rather than giving thought to the future.

We can sense Paul’s overall frustration with the Corinthians when he simply tells them, “Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.” (33)

Like too many movies I seen where I think it should have ended earlier than it does, so too here with Paul, who now takes up the question about the nature of our resurrected bodies: “But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” (35)

I think I can discern two points Paul is making here. The first one is that in order to receive a resurrected body, we must die first—just like every other creature that God has created: “How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” (36) That makes sense and as mathematicians might assert, that is the trivial case. 

Paul’s second point is that our resurrected body will be different than our mortal body. But he does not describe the exact difference but rather employs a logical example: “Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.” (39)

To emphasize his point about this crucial difference, Paul contrasts earthly bodies and  heavenly bodies: “the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.” (40) I think he’s telling us that while we’re here alive on earth, our existing body has its own kind of splendor. He uses another example to prove his point that God has created slender of many different kinds: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.” (41)

So don’t denigrate our current physical bodies. Treat them well. Our resurrected bodies will also possess splendor, but it will be a splendor of a different kind.

Which is where I think we ought to leave it…



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