Under the Magnifying Glass

One day at work two of my co-workers, I’ll call them “Joe” and “Fred,” came to my desk. Out of the blue, Joe asked me: “Hey, Glenn, wanna hear a dirty joke?” I told him, “No.” It was what Joe expected me to say, but what intrigued me was the exchange that happened between Joe and Fred after my response. Fred looked surprised and asked: “Why did you ask him that? You know he doesn’t want to hear stuff like that!” Joe kind of smirked and said, “I know. I just wanted to see if he still thought that way.” I don’t bring that up for my own praise. I bring it up because it made me realize that being clear about who I am and the God I worship doesn’t put me in a protective bubble, it puts me under a magnifying glass. It’s where I must expect to find myself and it should have a bearing on all that I do. Psalm 79 shows what’s at stake for those who claim to live for God.

Psalms 79:8-9

(8)  O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low.
(9)  Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.

This psalm opens with an allusion to an invading army coming in, destroying the temple and laying waste to Jerusalem (v. 1). It does not specify what nation it was that did this, but it most likely was the Babylonians. The invasions suffered by the Jews during this time in their history were all the result of their own sins against God. In his anguish, the psalmist prays for God’s wrath upon the invaders, but he does not blame them for Jerusalem’s troubles. Instead, he says: “We are become a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.” (v. 4) When I sin against God there is more at stake than my own reputation. When I sin against God, I bring shame to Him. What my sin does to me personally is always subordinate to what my sin does to the name and reputation of my God. When I come to Him for mercy, my prayers need to reflect that understanding. In his prayer, the psalmist cries out:

Psalms 79:8-9

(8)  O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent [come early to meet] us: for we are brought very low.
(9)  Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.

He acknowledges the gravity of his sin and that of his people and pleads for help but asks that God’s glory be restored before he asks for deliverance. But what brought God’s anger down on His people in the first place? In verse 5, the psalmist asks:

“How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry [forever]? shall thy jealousy burn like fire?”

Why was God jealous? He was jealous because His people had forsaken Him to worship the idols of the land. Rather than desiring to be like the God of the Bible, the people of Jerusalem wanted to be like the world around them. But how did they get there? Pride. Pride is what brought down Sodom and Gomorrah, and pride is what brings down God’s people, too. The sins that come out of pride are just symptoms of the underlying cause. For believers, the first symptom of pride is usually self-righteousness. This was true of the people of Jerusalem in this psalmist’s day. Yes, they were tolerating idols, but their thinking was “We’re God’s people. We live in Jerusalem. God meets us in our temple. We’re untouchable.” Whenever we forget that our righteousness is not our own or we begin to think that our connection to God somehow puts us in some sort of protective bubble that exempts us from the consequences of our sinful pride, when we begin to think that our standing before God is the result of our own works and not the gift of God’s grace, we tread on dangerous ground. My relationship to God does not exempt me from moral responsibility, it makes me even more accountable. Before I take any action, I need to consider how my actions will reflect upon my God? Because as believers, we don’t live in a bubble, we live under a magnifying glass.

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