Shin. — v. 161-168.
Lips curled above the fangs and a low growl warned of the nasty mood and jealous protection over Candy’s bowl of food. Short and fat but solid as an anvil, the old beagle-hound mixed-breed dog spent mere seconds before lunging out to literally bite the hand that fed her. She was my neighbor’s dog and I had been given the job of feeding her. Apparently, I stood too close after putting the food in the bowl and she was letting me know where I stood with her. It didn’t matter who I was or how I was working for her benefit, I stood between her and what she wanted and thought was hers, so she bit me.
It was the bite that caused me to react. Teeth puncturing my skin. The betrayal of my best intentions toward her. It hurt my best feelings toward her. I don’t remember ever approaching (or liking) her again because I’d learned something of her character: she was an old dog with a short temper and a very short memory of who I was.
Shin is a prayer to God concerning betrayal of the closest kind. The psalmist faces God with the pain of having been bitten by one who should have known better (e.g., a shepherd-pastor, a teacher, a parent or child, an intimate friend, an official in the position of protecting from injustice). We can take threats in quiet consideration, but once we are bitten we cry out our betrayal. Who, then, can be trusted? It is at this crisis point, this intersection between faith and distrust, that my faith can be shaken. What I do at this point determines the quality of my faith.
The Poison of Impulsiveness. What did I do when I was bitten by Candy? I withdrew myself from physical proximity. It is only natural to avoid a second incident; I needed time to figure out what had just happened. Maybe others would have reached out with a stick or hurled an object or administered a swift kick to retaliate. Maybe some would have yelled and tried to frighten Candy.
It seems there are basically two options that we humans usually swing to: withdrawal or attack. We react and often impulsively, losing our bearings and long-term discernment when we feel invaded. Shin is our prescription for the better way.
God offers steady discernment. The psalmist in 119 has a center to fall back on, a standard that is true no matter the circumstance. That center is the Word of God.
In the Old Testament, that word was literally the purpose and commandments of God given first as a covenant and commandment to Adam, confirmed in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and clarified in the commandments given to Moses. God’s purpose is that all the world will know Him (Genesis 12). His commandments bring order according to what they teach us of His holiness and sovereignty. The covenant of God came with a promise of one who would bridge the gap between our human inabilities to obey Him and the love of God through grace in a Promised Savior (Genesis 2).
In the New Testament, the Word became visible and tangible to us in the person of Jesus Christ. All that God has required of us was illustrated, clarified, and modeled for us in Christ. He is the Word Alive!
The Old Testament psalmist steadied himself on the Person, promises, wisdom, and the requirements of the Word of God. He knew that any human impulsiveness (to fight back or self-protect) could shake him down to the same level as his betrayers.
At just such a time as my own personal suffering and especially unjust suffering, I have a choice: what do I want the yield from this incident to be? What outcome is most important? My injustice and suffering can be the catalyst for good in me and for others, or it can destroy me and others through bitterness, fear, hatred and rage and murderous intent.
No fear in love. With impulsive reactions, the goal is the same–to punish; the motive is fear. But there is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). I can love because all fear of my own punishment before God is gone, washed away by Christ’s sacrificial grace. No one is forcing me to lay down my impulses; I bring them under Christ’s lordship and control out of gratefulness for the grace extended to me.
Such love is not weakness, it is strength. Fearless, I can now love others, even my betrayers. I have read testimonies of those who have suffered unjustly for the cause of Christ, I am humbled by the witness of these who quelled their reactions in order to magnify the overwhelming love of Christ.
Christ’s higher example, however, placed the salvation of his unfaithful friends (I would be one) over the pain and sacrifice of his own martyrdom. He loves that much. Can I love any less?
Daily Opportunities. Have I suffered to the point of Corrie ten Boom who lost her family and watched her sister die in the German Ravensbruck concentration camp? Normally, the only affronts I suffer are against my sense of self-righteousness, my comfort, or my security in this world.
Nonetheless, most of us know what it is to be betrayed and attacked without cause, of feeling wounded to the core, displaced, lost and unable to trust again. I have doubted God when things didn’t turn out as I expected they would. I am tempted to impulsively retreat or utter sharp words that say: “Back off!” instead of “Come in!” I am called by God to (eventually) reconnect in love and kind self-forgetfulness, despite any lack of change in the other party.
We love simply because Christ loved us and sent His Son to remove all fear from our hearts. We don’t need to self-protect; He is our protection. We don’t have to hate all dogs simply because of having been bitten by one. We just keep loving.
The Power of God. The final point in Shin is that we can’t do this without the power of God in us. He doesn’t try to achieve heroics of self-denial on his own; it is utterly impossible. All such self-effort distorts and perverts to the same level of intrigue in the end (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Only Christ’s pure love in us will keep us from such perversion of soul and motive (Proverbs 3:5-6). So we lay our case before Him in thanks to Him who loved us first, and ask Him to love through us.
Father in heaven, you see my soul and the many affronts, big and small, that I face in a single day. I am unclean. I am not righteous. I often inadvertently precipitate the problems. I ask you to reveal to me my sin and help me to own up to it honestly and frankly without fear of recourse or shame. Help me to see confession as a noble act and follow you in sacrificial grace. But there are times, Lord, and you know them, when I am unjustly accused or betrayed. Take my heart, Father, and heal the wound. Give me a higher perspective than my own limited understanding. Help me see the needs of others even in this and help me to stand, not weakly, but in your strength to love and to rise above in all gentleness, for you are very near (Phil 4:6). Help me to be brave where I am so very tired. Make this an opportunity to share your incredible love and forgiveness. Thank you for the sure truth of your Word. In the name of Jesus, our Word of Truth, so let it be.
© copyright 2018 by http://www.readpsalm119.com; last revised January 27, 2019.
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