This week’s chapter in Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, is Psalm 128: Happiness.
“In the course of Christian discipleship we discover that without Christ we were doing it the hard way and that with Christ we are doing it the easy way” (p. 115). This statement is explored throughout the chapter, but the basic point at the beginning is that “being a Christian is what we were created for.” Even when the Christian life is challenging, we know that life is made to work in Christ. This is like (I think) CS Lewis’ famous image comparing a car and gasoline with the human person and God, saying we are made to run on God and don’t function well when we don’t. Peterson is asserting the same thing, though from the other direction–we’re made to run on God, so look how well it works when we do: “A good life…promises of blessing…pronouncements of blessing…experiences blessings between those boundaries” (p. 116).
“Blessing has inherent in it the power to increase. It functions by sharing and delight in life” (p.118). The image at the center of Psalm 128 is that of a wife bearing more and more children–more aligned with the values and practicalities of the culture in which the psalm was written than those of modern American culture for the most part. But, as Peterson puts it, “the meaning is still with us.” “The characteristic of blessing is to multiply.” “Too much of our happiness depends upon taking from one to satisfy another.” This is a sort of happiness through hording–according to the psalm, no happiness at all. Christian happiness runs counter to this and is exemplified in the saying of Jesus found in Acts 20:35, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (p. 119).
“The blessings…do not…exclude difficulties. But the difficulties are not inherent in the faith: they come from the outside” (p. 119). “Temptations, seductions, pressures” harass us, yes. Christians deal with “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” “But the way of faith itself is in tune with what God has done and is doing.”
“Not only do we let God be God as he really is, but we start doing the things for which he made us” (p. 120). Fearing (or revering, or being in awe of) the Lord, and walking on his straight road means that we are letting God be God and that we doing the things that God has made us to do. This relates to Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
“If you go against the grain of the universe you get splinters” (p. 121). This image is key for the point of this chapter I think. Peterson says that those who try to achieve meaning apart from God are disappointed, turning their frustrations toward pilgrims on the journey, all the while not realizing clearly that they are working “against the grain of creation,” and thus making life more difficult than it is meant to be. For me, this closes the circle with Point #1 and what Peterson is saying at the beginning of the chapter.