Absolutely!!!

Psalm 111 is filled with absolutes. As a middle school teacher, I warned my students about the dangers of overusing absolutes. If you know anything about middle school students, you know their world is absolutely wonderful or horrible depending upon the day, hour, or minute. Never, forever, always, all, none, everything, and nothing are ingrained into their vocabularies and their lives, and they love to pepper those words with exclamation points!! David used absolutes in his psalms because no other words will do when it comes to describing God.

Praise the Lord!

I will thank the Lord with all my heart
    as I meet with his godly people.
How amazing are the deeds of the Lord!
    All who delight in him should ponder them.
Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty.
    His righteousness never fails.
He causes us to remember his wonderful works.
    How gracious and merciful is our Lord!
He gives food to those who fear him;
    he always remembers his covenant.
He has shown his great power to his people
    by giving them the lands of other nations.
All he does is just and good,
    and all his commandments are trustworthy.
They are forever true,
    to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity.
He has paid a full ransom for his people.
    He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
    What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
    All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

Praise him forever! (NLT)

Psalm 111 shows why middle school students seek absolutes. We are all comforted by them, but they are rare in this world. My granddaughter Lilly is five, and she helped me start the week with an important absolute. She frequently spends the night with me, and we have the sweetest pillow talk. On Monday night, when she finished her prayer, I told her God loved her and so did I.

She said, “What about when I’m silly?”

I said, “God still loves you.”

“What about when I’m not nice?”

“He still loves you.”

“What about when I’m mean?”

“He still love you.”

“Gigi, when does God not love me?”

“Never.”

“God never loves me!”

“No, Lilly, there is never a time when God doesn’t love you.”

“Cool.”

“Yes, very cool!!”

My middle school students continued to use absolutes with abandon, and exclamation points filled their writing. They were searching for boundaries in their own lives, and their writing reflected a longing for something that is always true. So are we all.

David found his Absolute, and I’ve found mine. God will never leave me!! He always keeps His promises!!! He loves me, and He always will!!! Those absolutes bring comfort and hope. I’m working on loving God with all of my heart all of the time. I fall short, but God is always there to help me get back on the right track. He never tires of picking me up or helping me obey when I stumble and fall, and that gives me the courage to go forward.

Having an Absolute makes the journey a joy because I know when I fall from the high wires I get myself onto, God’s love is always there.

Photo Credit: Life Magazine
Photo Credit: Life Magazine

Fear and Wisdom

Psalm 111 is a powerful reminder that the study of God’s Word is a delight. It not only brings me closer to God, but also fosters an attitude of gratitude and praise. New lessons are learned and old ones are affirmed. I can study alone, but, like eating, studying is much better when done with others.

Praise the Lord!

I will thank the Lord with all my heart
    as I meet with his godly people.
How amazing are the deeds of the Lord!
    All who delight in him should ponder them.
Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty.
    His righteousness never fails.
He causes us to remember his wonderful works.
    How gracious and merciful is our Lord!
He gives food to those who fear him;
    he always remembers his covenant.
He has shown his great power to his people
    by giving them the lands of other nations.
All he does is just and good,
    and all his commandments are trustworthy.
They are forever true,
    to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity.
He has paid a full ransom for his people.
    He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
    What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
    All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

Praise him forever! (NLT)

Paul Gerhardt’s hymn ” I Come With Thanks Most Grateful” is a beautiful paraphrase of Psalm 111. I love the English translation of last verse:

Fear of the Lord produces 

The first and only base for

Wisdom that educes

God’s praise, God’s shining face.

How quick and bright the soul

Who knows this way inspiring

And travels it untiring,

God’s praise its end and goal.

I haven’t spent time studying Psalm 111, but I found myself wanting to reach deeply into it yesterday. The connection between fear and wisdom intrigues me. I had an unhealthy fear of God for most of my life and even thought of Him as someone who would strike me down if I disobeyed Him. I realize how ridiculous that is now, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who had the wrong kind of fear instilled in them at an early age.

Fear of the Lord is awe, respect, reverence, and wonder. That’s the opposite of the paralyzing terror I once associated with God. Awe makes me want to know more, to dig deeper, and to grow in wisdom. Terror makes me want to run for cover. Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. Terror is the beginning of ignorance. As a teacher, I appreciate this psalm. Instilling a desire to learn is the goal of all good teachers. Threatening students and instilling fear is what the worst do.

Psalm 111 begins and ends praising God. The same should be true of my study of His Word. The more I read and study the Bible, the more clearly I understand what Gerhardt is saying in his beautiful hymn. He’s right! God’s praise is the end and the goal of wisdom.

Paul Gerhardt
Paul Gerhardt