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

Originally published 5/20/2015. Revised and updated 5/20/2019.

Psalm 67: This thanksgiving psalm opens with what seems to be 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 all about. 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 acknowledge God as our Creator and that God is the loving source of redemption and salvation for all humankind. If only all would follow “Your way” they would all enjoy “Your rescue.”

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,
For You rule peoples rightly,
and actions on earth You lead. (4,5).

Alas, we sinful humans decided to make ourselves the center of the universe, and the resultant mess we have made of creation, of society, and of 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 for worship:
Nations acclaim You, O God,
all peoples acclaim You. (6)

We all would pray for the eventual end of history and the restoration of God’s created order, where love reigns supreme.

The psalm ends on an almost wistful note that despite the ruin we have inflicted on ourselves and on all creation, that the psalmist—and all peoples—seek God’s blessing again and again:
The earth gives its yield.
May God our God bless us.
May God bless us
and all the ends of the earth fear Him. (7, 8)

Proverbs 13: As we read this catalog of sayings, it’s once again easy to see that human nature has not changed one whit in the millennia since these aphorisms 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, beginning with childhood:
A wise child loves discipline,
but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (1)

And then to all of us adults…
The righteous hate falsehood,
 but the wicked act shamefully and disgracefully. (5).

So 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 American culture awash in shows of wealth where none exists. 

Of course it is the penultimate verse of this chapter 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 some parents are guilty of 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. The absence of discipline is a form of hate—that the parent does not value its child enough to set it on a straight path. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with discipline lovingly applied, and the evidence of its absence surrounds 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 who 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 pretty sure Paul’s words here have resulted in more misinterpretation than just about anything else he wrote. It has become the primary source of the idea of the Rapture occurring near the end of history, where all good Christians will be raised to heave, while non-christians are (as the eponymous book tiles have it) left behind: “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 personally 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 probably will not satisfy his audience, so he takes a different explanatory tack, at least admitting it’s a mystery in his famous verse: “We will not all die, but we will all be changed. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (51, 52)

Unfortunately, far too many people have left out the “mystery” part and boldly concluded that something they call the Rapture is prophetic fact. Even to the absurd point of predicting when it will happen—only to be proven wrong again and again—furthering our culture’s rejection of Christianity as mere silliness.

In the end, all Paul can really 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 of what happens when we die and cease trying to assert we know exactly what will happen at the end of history.

 

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