Psalm 73 Study Question 8

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 73 (see notes)

Question 8. Think back over the psalm. What have you learned that can help you “pray through your doubts and difficulties” better?

In a way that is similar to the lesson learned in the previous study, I have learned a difficult lesson about prayer. This week, I learned that God has very explicitly told us that this life isn’t going to be comfortable, or even just. I’ve already written about how my initial expectations that the Christian life would be smooth were very quickly broken by God. In this psalm God is telling me that I should expect to see the wicked prosper, that He will take vengeance upon them, and to go to church. So whenever I encounter injustice – or unrepentant brokenness – of any type, and it is not my duty to confront it (as it did not appear to be Asaph’s duty here), I have to pray that God would take vengeance upon it, not expecting this to be answered in this life.

As a side note, “vengeance” against an unbeliever might take the form of vengeance against his sin but not his person. This would imply the unbeliever’s conversion. I share the same faith as Paul, who famously said he’d give up his salvation for the sake of his Jewish countrymen. This is a good prayer.

The most difficult part about this lesson is thinking that we will be praying for vengeance against someone who is luxuriating in his wickedness when, again, presumably also in with Asaph’s case, that person is also a follower of God. In that case in my prayer life I have some choices: 1) I’m wrong – there’s no injustice there, or I have only found a speck in a brother’s eye; 2) This fellow believer is really acting wickedly and unrepentantly; the vengeance has actually already been carried out – against his sin, on the cross, so thankfulness is in order; 3) This fellow believer is acting wickedly and unrepentantly, and shows a trajectory away from God to death. My petition then has to be for: 1) clarity or understanding; 2) thankfulness and peace with the situation; and 3) repentance and a return to God.

The most difficult aspect of this lesson will be accepting that there will be injustice that I will never see fixed in this life.

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Psalm 73 Study Question 7

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 73 (see notes)

Question 7. How does knowing about the work of Jesus Christ make it even easier for us (a) to understand the idea of a God who seems to sleep through the world’s storm of injustice (v. 20), and (b) to know that God will never let us go or forsake us (vv. 23-24)?

(a) We learn from Christ’s work a number of things. First, because our faith is a historical faith, we can look back with assurance upon a completed work (“it is finished”). The most important article of this justification is the resurrection of Jesus, which we affirm not because of verbal tradition, but because of written correspondence. This correspondence had two compelling features: the number of witnesses exceeded that required by biblical law (see here, especially point 2), and the fact that the doctrine of the resurrection which is kind of falsifiable (one would have to prove all Scriptural accounts of the resurrection to have been falsified.) No other religion (and by “other religion,” I mean, something other than the Christian faith, and so therefore “false religion”) features both the historical anchor and falsifiability. This is not enough, of course, to convert a man. The Holy Spirit’s action is the necessary and sufficient condition for this (but He may use knowledge of either Christian feature, or of others, as means.) Because of this, we can rely on Christ’s promises as He has revealed them to us in Scripture.

Second, we know that Christ told us not in so many words that he did not promise us a rose garden (see here, here, for two quick examples.) The rollback of injustice in the world will continue until His promises are fulfilled. Until that day, which may lie far into the future, we will witness the ongoing “mopping up” operation of Christ’s war against unbelief, injustice, and sin. Which, incidentally, is victoriously and relentlessly grinding His opponents into powder. Despite this, this operation will at different times and places look ugly. So, now, relying on His word, we can have confidence that the continued presence of imperfection in this world is not evidence of the failure of the gospel. It is only evidence that the gospel was needed in the first place. To those who believe that God is sleeping through the storm of the world’s injustice, God has given us this psalm.

(b) Because of this first element of the answer in (a), we know we can rely on the reassurances of Christ in His word about us not only as His bride (i.e., collectively as His church), but also as individuals. Jesus comforts His people again and again. There is no doubt that, no matter what one’s view of global eschatology (dispensational premil, historic premil, amil, postmil), a Christian’s individual eschatology is secure. No major orthodox sect of the Christian religion (primitive, ancient, orthodox, Roman catholic, Protestant) has ever wavered on this doctrine. It is among the surest doctrines available to us in the Bible.

I trust that I have answered Rev. Keller’s main point in (b), as he uses the first person plural, but did not mention the church. For that reason I focused on the individual. This does not mean that Jesus does not also have churches and nations in view; it only means that this was the sense in which I took his question.

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Psalm 73 Study Question 6

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 73 (see notes)

Question 6. Derek Kidner says “Verse 1 is the key to the whole psalm.” How might that be true, in light of all you’ve seen?

One way to answer this question is to think of this collection of words as a song, which it indeed is. It was written in a particular occasion (Israel, ca. 1000 BC), by a court official (Asaph the seer), who worked with a musical genius (David), to be sung in Temple worship. As such, we should not expect to read this or any other psalm as a three-point essay or some piece of Greek rhetoric from the progymnasmata writing series. Stylistic flourishes ought to be expected. I write this because verse 1 seems to be isolated thematically from verse 2 ff., where Asaph takes us down his painful road of separation.

In addition to this, as I mentioned previously, we learn of Asaph’s struggles in Psalm 73 retrospectively; he gave neither verbal nor physical outlet to his thoughts. The phrase, “If I had said,” tells us that Asaph is looking back. So it is with verse 1. He foreshadows the conclusion and thus gives shape to his song. It is like the shape of the Bible itself, which begins not with the fall but with creation, and man enjoying fellowship with God and dominion over the created order. The fall comes next, and then redemption in Christ. So it is with Psalm 73; Asaph begins with an affirmation of God’s goodness (goodness is the theme of creation), suffers a sort of fall (his separation from God), and experiences a sort of redemption (his “coming to himself” after worshiping in the sanctuary.)

Another view is to think about the faithfulness of God (remember, God held Asaph’s right hand throughout) and Asaph illustrates this by bookending a reminder of His faithfulness at the very beginning. Since God never let go of Asaph’s right hand, Asaph won’t let us forget that He also holds our right hands throughout as well, and so he begins the psalm with this affirmation.

So in short, I do believe verse 1 is the key to the whole psalm.

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Psalm 73 Study Question 5

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 73 (see notes)

Question 5. Get more specific ideas about what Asaph did “in the sanctuary” (v. 17a). (a) Read verses 21-24. How did worship give him a new perspective on himself? (b) Read verses 25-26. How did worship give him a new perspective on God? How is this the real antidote for his problem?

21 When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Interesting that Asaph compares the worst part of his separation from God to a state of animal-like brutishness. Something exactly like that happened to King Nebudchadnezzar:

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.

Nebuchadnezzar had separated himself from God with his arrogance – and God made him like a beast for seven years. Asaph recognized this possibility much earlier. I think God is trying to teach us that separation from Him is like a state of being less than fully human. I think today the application is to recognize that we can only be fully human when we are found in Christ.

As already discussed, that separation (which seems to be a common theme in this study into the Psalms) arose from Asaph’s envy and resultant bitterness. And yet, the contrasting statement in verse 23 (“Nevertheless, I am continually with you,”) teaches us that Asaph recognized his essential state as unchanged: he was always in relationship with God, even during his worst time. An elementary reading of this verse (“I am … with you,”) sounds like he is giving himself credit for this continuity. A broad, careful reading of scripture would contradict that conclusion.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Here Asaph meditates (and, of course, leads us to meditate) on God, specifically on the fact that He lives in heaven. The question, “Whom have I in heaven but you?” focuses on God’s supreme value and desire of his heart. The same goes for God’s presence on earth. Asaph recognizes that his mortality (flesh and heart; body and soul) will be taken up into God and in this way he will live forever with him.

This is a brief but powerful meditation on salvation. Today we’d say that we need to preach the gospel to ourselves, remembering the price Jesus paid on the cross, how such a heavy price would not buy something lost cheaply, how God’s fatherhood is infinitely loving and deep. This part of the psalm is a call to remember that:

nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:39)

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Psalm 73 Study Question 4

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 73 (see notes)

4. Verses 15-20. What are the next three steps or things that occur that help him to “get his foothold” back?

15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.

Verse 15 is interesting: the psalmist confesses his complaint to us lyrically, but implies that he kept his thoughts to himself until composing this song. He stopped short of verbally complaining; but he used his mental complaint to instruct us. We know that there are levels of sin: thought, word and deed. The psalmist was beset by envious and bitter thoughts but did not take the next step of becoming a notorious and public complainer, followed by a dramatic exit state left from the church. He knew that this kind of drama would cause others to stumble, especially children, who can be so sensitive to the travails, foibles and failures of their elders. So the first step is his choice to keep it to himself.

Note how, in verse 16, he gives up on understanding how injustice and evil prosper. I discussed this in an earlier post. The summary is that the power of human reason is unequal to understanding this problem, so it’s best to quit wasting time on it. The second step is his choice to stop relying on human reason.

It’s clear that when he returned to the sanctuary, he listened to the word of God there, and learned (or, more likely, relearned) that God has reserved vengeance to Himself (Psalm 94:1.) (Interesting that a writer of the psalms would use another psalm as divine instruction – did Old Testament writers understand their work to be inspired by God?) We learn here that the preaching there was good. We learn that the psalmist listened to it and was willing to be encouraged in his walk by it. In the New Testament, two writers (Paul and the writer of Hebrews) chose to quote this verse. The third step is his choice to depend on the word of God for discernment.

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Psalm 73 Study Question 3

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 73 (see notes)

Question 3. Verses 3, 13-14. The first stage out of his anger and doubt is an honest view of his own motives and attitudes. What does he admit about the roots of his resentment in these verses?

For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

In verse 3, the psalmist admits that he became envious of the arrogant when he saw their prosperity. Since this psalm was written for temple service, he in some way expects every Jew and every Christian to sing this in worship. We ought to dwell on this idea for a moment: if God has revealed to us a book of worship songs, then He wants His people to connect with the lyrics because that’s what happens with music. We remember the words. The words sink into our hearts. God wants the Psalms to have a deep impact on us. No less in this psalm, whose author seems to be saying: the temptation to envy is so universal, and our fallenness equally so, that I expect this confession to be on the lips of every member of the kingdom of God until He returns.

13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 14 For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.

Verses 13-14 clearly represent a low point. A lot like the following:

18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me,19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

Both the psalmist and the Preacher have come to feel that life is worthless. In the psalmist’s case, bitterness and envy have almost caused him to give up on living in the community of God (as we discover later.) He feels that the whole day (i.e. the circumstances of his life, the injustice that he’s observed) is constantly rebuking him and the language implies that, to him, it is just not worth it anymore. Basically he hates his life.

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Psalm 73 Study Questions 1 and 2

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 73 (see notes)

Psalm 73 is a Psalm of Asaph (50, 73-83). This may have been a joint venture between Asaph and David (see 2 Chronicles 29:30, in which Hezekiah commanded the Levites to sing “the words of David and of Asaph the seer”), or Asaph himself. Asaph was the leader of a family or guild of singers that served in the temple. It’s quite instructive, given the arc of the story in Psalm 73, to know this: Asaph and David both had power and position within the civil and ecclesiastical Jewish world. And in Psalm 73 we hear the lamentation of a man who witnesses the sin of corruption in high places.

Question 1. Verses 4-12. What was the “all this” the psalmist saw that almost overthrew him?

4For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.
5They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.
7Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
8They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.
9They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.
10Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.
11And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.

The psalmist despaired of the prosperity of the wicked. He complains about their comfortable lives that they enjoy despite their arrogance and wickedness. It is true that men without conscience can seemingly “get ahead” more easily by cheating, whether in their personal or professional lives. A good contemporary example is FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) president Sepp Blatter. He was recently reelected to a fifth term as president, despite a career wracked with scandalous activity: widespread bribery to win votes during elections, and the solicitation of bribes from soccer officials in return for favorable decisions on the location of their immense soccer tourney the World Cup. He was arrogant, fat and sleek and only now is God bringing him down through His divine justice minister (the civil magistrate.) In the U.S. This arrogance is typically (but not exclusively) exemplified by rich CEOs or politicians such as the Clintons and former House Speaker Denny Hastert. The list of crimes is impressive: powerful men promising oppression, setting their mouths against the heavens, or the government stealing from the people. It’s notable that Asaph says that they have no pangs “until death,” perhaps a bit of foreshadowing. At death, the eternal pangs of the wicked are so unbearable as to be unimaginable.

Question 2. What spiritual condition resulted? (The psalmist describes it in verses 2, 16, and 21.)

Verse 2: The psalmist talks about his feet nearly stumbling, his steps nearly slipping. This implies that he was on a walk with God (which can be inferred because this is a) a worship song and b) from verse 11.) Because of the “all this,” his walk with God was severely impacted. We can’t ignore the injustice that we see around us. If we are with God, we will have some expectation that the world will seem right to us. I think that Asaph recognized that this was a normal expectation. This is what the psalmist labored under, and we ought to recognize that we will want everything to be “right” if we’re Christian. Moreover, because of the nature of modern communications, the actions of the corrupt rich and powerful are more easily seen.

Verse 16: The work associated with trying to understand this dichotomy is described as “wearisome” and never contradicted in the psalm. In other words, the psalmist never returns to this work of understanding to complete it. Once he calls it wearisome, he’s done with it. When we consider that Jesus described obedience to His law a light thing, taking on tasks the Bible describes as wearisome begins to seem like a waste of time. In other words, not worth doing. How do we apply this? Stop trying to make sense of a fallen world. It’s fallen! The Preacher also had this reaction.

Verse 21: The psalmist 1) became embittered. We know this is a sin (Eph 4:31, Heb 12:15) and the psalmist unabashedly confesses it. How much healthier would our walks be if we just admitted to our sin like this, even if only to God? Bitterness is a devastatingly painful and nasty emotion. God wants us to be free from it. This bitterness 2) pricked his heart. He couldn’t experience bitterness and then simply go on his way. It burrowed into his soul and this affected his walk with God. Bitterness is such a strong emotion that it touches everything.

I think that the proper summation of this part of the study is that envy leads to bitterness, which is powerful, and will spill over into other parts of your life. It can’t be contained.

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Lufthansa Ab Initio Training Part III

Please see here for Part I and here for Part II of this series. Today’s post is the last.

When I viewed Slide 8 of Lufthansa’s presentation to the NTSB, my curiosity was piqued by the length of the various stages in their ab initio pilot training program leading to a Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL.) The different stages are interesting in comparison to what I remember from my Navy days.

Lufthansa MPL Training Program

Lufthansa’s Become an Airline Pilot Quickly Program

Stage 1, Theoretical Training (Ground School) lasts almost a year. In the Navy, Aviation Indoctrination (today it’s called Aviation Preflight Indoctrination) lasted about 6 weeks.

Stage 2, Flight Training, lasts four months. This is the stage with the most in common with the Primary Flight Training Stage in Navy flight school. The Navy version lasted about 6-9 months but had a lesser scope (if I recall correctly – the mists of time and all that.) We spent more time on “upset training” (stalls) in this stage. First we learned how to recover from power off stalls (stall in a glide) and approach turn stalls (stall in a turn with the landing gear and flaps down). Then we practiced these maneuvers ad nauseum for the rest of flight school. It worked: one night during the intermediate phase in the T-2C, I got near an approach stall in the landing pattern over Pensacola Bay at night, 500 ft. above the water. The rudder pedal shaker (a stall warning feature) came on unexpectedly. I reacted immediately- adding power, lowering the nose, and accelerating the T-2C out of the stall; I lost only 10-20 ft of altitude. My instructor said nothing. I’d been trained to extreme proficiency in that maneuver by the Navy. I don’t know how often students are drilled in stall recovery in Lufthansa’s program, but if the 2:50 hrs of upset recovery training represent one flight, that’s not enough. Stall recovery training has to be practiced again and again throughout the syllabus.

Stages 3 and 4 add 123 hours during 6.5 months of training. All in all, this program lasts 22 months and students fly about 237 hours, much of that in the simulator. At the end of flight school in the Navy, I had taken 24 months and flown more than 260 aircraft hours (I don’t remember the amount of simulator time.) Navy flight students of my day left flight school with more flight hours than Lufthansa’s ab intio MPL graduates do.

But nobody in the U.S. would ever assign a recently winged Naval Aviator to the cockpit of an airliner for want of experience. 260 hours – let alone fewer – would be a laughably low number for such a position.

Some More Thoughts on Gnosticism

I see that in my earlier post on Gnosticism, both problems I suggested were manifestations of Gnosticism in the church today – elevation of the immaterial over against the material, especially the human body, and an extreme fixation on the visible/invisible church distinction – will be solved at the last day (when Christians receive their glorified, resurrected bodies, and the church will be filled with the “visible elect”.) I think that this could have been an interesting coda to my earlier post but didn’t include it.

Some Thoughts on Gnosticism

I think that creeping Gnosticism (unintentionally) infects some Christian thinking today. This is a danger. I keep wanting to use this word in my posts, as opposition to Gnosticism is important to me. However, properly defining the term has to come first. Here are four approaches.

1. Google.com definition:

Google Gnosticism

2. Dictionary.com definition:

Dictionary Gnosticism

3. Dr. Benjamin Wiker, a Roman Catholic ethicist, provides good overviews of both the 2nd century and modern forms of Gnosticism in this article. While the article carries on at length concerning the modern form (and is worth reading), his definition of the ancient form is succinct:

The heresy of Gnosticism had its origin in paganism but burst into full flower in its disruption of early Christianity. At its heart is a hatred of the material world, in particular, the human body. Gnostics rejected the material world as the evil creation of an inferior Demiurge, the world-making deity that the Gnostic heretics identified with Creator God revealed in the Old Testament. Against the orthodox understanding of the goodness of all creation, they believed that the material world was irredeemable, and therefore that human redemption meant salvation of the immaterial soul — the divine spark—from its imprisonment. (emphasis mine)

4. The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) has a page. Not much difference here:

Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge usually dealt with the individual’s relationship to the transcendent Being.

You can see the opportunity for abuse here: certain individuals possessing special knowledge can abuse anyone’s interest in receiving this knowledge. In contrast, the gospel is free.

Gnosticism is protean. It appears here as an obsession in the difference between body and soul; over there as a fixation on the distinction between the visible and invisible church. These are the two main problems with it in the church today.

Adam did not have a soul breathed into his body by God; he had life breathed into him, and then became a living soul. His personhood was not some laminate of a body and a soul; he was a person and therefore had both. When Christians die, and their bodies decay in the earth while their souls fly to heaven, this is a temporary state, and not glorious. The glorified, permanent state happens when body and soul are reunited after the resurrection.

Likewise, while the distinction between the visible and invisible church is real, it only exists because of human limitations. God knows His bride. He is not double-minded on the one He loves and died for. We must make this distinction because we do not know God’s eternal decrees before they are made manifest at the last day. Unfortunately, an over-reliance on this distinction usually elevates the invisible over the visible, as if the former were more real, and the latter more suspect (see the Gnosticism inherent in that?) As men, we ought to be more humble and realize that the visible/invisible distinction is about our limitations, not any actual division.

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