a long obedience 3

Chapter 3 of Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction focuses on Psalm 121 and chooses as its theme “Providence.”

Peterson begins with a mock description of a life in which every trouble has flittered away upon receiving Christ and endeavoring to follow him. After building this up for a couple of paragraphs he asks if this is what the reader believes then assures us: if so, he has wonderful news, “you are wrong.” Shortly thereafter, Peterson says, “For many, the first great surprise of the Christian faith is in the form of the troubles we meet.” The Christian life is not about life always coming up roses.

He addresses the first verses of the psalm: “I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.” What would the ancient Hebrews have seen on the mountains? These were the places where pagan shrines to gods and goddesses like Baal and Asherah were to be found. Trouble with crops or rain or fertility? We’ve got a ritual for you! For the faithful Hebrew, this would not do. Not much of a leap to begin thinking of the “mountains” we look up to for solutions to our problems…ones that turn out to be false solutions.

The heart of this chapter’s message is found in this statement: “The promise of the psalm–and both Hebrews and Christians have always read it this way–is not that we shall never stub our toes but that no injury, no illness, no accident, no distress will have evil power over us, that is, will be able to separate us from God’s purposes in us.” Following on this assertion, he continues a few sentences down: “the only serious mistake we can make…[is the] mistake of supposing that God’s interest in us waxes and wanes in response to our spiritual temperature.”

It is on this foundation that Peterson says we can offer every situation in our lives to Christ. He concludes, then, “The great danger of Christian discipleship is that we should have two religions: a glorious, biblical Sunday gospel…and, then, an everyday religion that we make do with during the week.” His point is clear and sharper than the old disdainful distinction of being a “Sunday Christian” only. Instead, he is saying that the problem is not merely that we don’t live our lives for Christ on the other 6 days of the week so much as that we fall into practicing false religion instead because we think the old false solutions we used to run to up on top of the mountains might gain us something. So we reject the gracious provision of God.

The Christian life is not an escape, Peterson reminds us, but rather a journey with and towards God: “In going to God Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on… The difference is that each step we walk…we know we are preserved…accompanied…ruled by God; and therefore no matter what…we endure…the Lord will guard us from every evil, he guards our very life”

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2 thoughts on “a long obedience 3

  1. Thanks, Ray. Yes, I appreciate reading Peterson not only for personal growth but also as good food for thought in my preaching.

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