What do you do when you see evidence around you that God is not who or what he says he is?
This is not a hypothetical question. There is much not to like about the world we live in—and I’m a happier, more optimistic guy than a lot of people I interact with. Plenty of people are having a really rough time. If you talk to people who say they used to believe in God but don’t anymore, many of them will say that the reason they don’t believe is that they don’t see how a great and good God would allow the hurtful things they see all around them. And a disturbing percentage of them would say that those hurtful things came to them from churches or individual Christians.
So what do you do?
I’ve found that the Bible, though it doesn’t give pat, easy answers, does handle hard questions well, if you read it accurately and thoughtfully. As I sometimes say to a person asking me about this problem, “It’s a big-boy question, and it calls for a big-boy answer; if you want a 2-minute answer, you’re going to be disappointed. You’re going to need to read some books.”
And the first book, of course, is the Bible. Accurately and thoughtfully, as I’ve said.
One of several good places to start in the Bible is Psalm 89. I’d like to take a few posts to consider what it says.
Like many Psalms, this one has a superscription. There’s a debate about the value of those; traditionally scholars have viewed them as later editorial additions to the Psalms, but there’s been discussion recently that suggests they might be part of the inspired text.
Whether they are or not, there’s certainly no harm in learning what we can from them.
This superscription says that the Psalm is a “Maskil,” or teaching Psalm. It’s intended to be didactic, to improve our understanding of its topic.
Well, we could all use some of that.
It says further that it’s by “Ethan the Ezrahite.” Some commentators say that the term should be “Zerahite,” which would make this Ethan the same as the one named in the long genealogy in 1 Chronicles (1Ch 2.6, 8). Maybe, maybe not. We know there was a Temple musician named Ethan (1Ch 15.17, 19), but he doesn’t appear to have any ancestors named Ezra—if that’s what “Ezrahite” means.
This Ethan does appear in 1 Kings 4.31, alongside a Heman, whose name also appears as a Temple musician in the Chronicles passage. The point of this verse is that Solomon was wiser than either of them—so apparently they were considered eminently wise in their day. (By the way, this verse doesn’t mean that Solomon must have lived after Ethan; since Kings was probably written during the Babylonian Exile, its author could have compared Solomon with those who came after him.)
All this may be a bit off in the weeds, but I love this stuff. And it’s my blog. 🙂
The first stanza of the Psalm serves as an introduction that sets the tone for all that follows. It opens with words familiar and nostalgic to those of a certain age; those of us who were in evangelical youth groups 50 or so years ago often sang a chorus based on the KJV of verse 1. (You know who you are; you have the tune in your head right now.)
The Psalmist declares his intent to praise God, and specifically to focus on his “mercies” (KJV; “lovingkindness” NASB; “steadfast love” ESV; “faithful love” CSB; “great love” NIV). This is the rich and complex Hebrew word hesed, which I’ve written on before. It’s a commitment to a loving relationship, no matter what.
God is faithful to his people—and to those who are not his people, although no one, in or out of the relationship, is faithful to him.
That’s worth praising.
Next time we’ll dig a little deeper.