Psalm 119 is one long and strange poem dedicated to the beauty of God’s law and one man’s struggle to keep it. We can understand poems dedicated to a lover, a sunset, or a work of art, but to a set of laws? I have a hard time imagining even lawyers composing such poetry, unless “if the glove does not fit, you must acquit,” qualifies as a poem. But I wonder if our own myopic view of God’s law is to blame because we have come to see it only as set of restrictions and punishments. But that’s not how God sees it. For him, it is a way of life, a kingdom whose subjects live in right relationship with God, their neighbor and with creation. The DNA of this way of life is contained in two simple commands:
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Leviticus 19:18 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus was asked what he thought was the greatest commandment and in his answer he brought these two together:
Matthew 22:37-38 Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
This is the way of life Jesus taught. This is the way he lived. It is the way he expects us to follow.
God’s law, as only a set of rules, will never inspire a poet. But the law as a new way of living, where the harmony of creation is restored as humanity is brought back into right relationship with God, neighbor, and all creation, has the power to move this poet. The struggle to have that dream realized in our lives. The fight to love God, when we are wired to love ourselves. The challenge to love our neighbor as ourselves, including our enemies, even when we care barely love our families. The discovery that Jesus stepped out of heaven and fulfilled this law for us, died for our failures, rose from the dead so that this vision might be realized in our lives, and poured out his Spirit that this way of life might spread virus-like though our world. That’s the stuff of epic poems.
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. (Psalm 119:97)
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth. (Psalm 119:103)
May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. Let me live that I might praise you, and may your laws sustain me. I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands. (Psalm 119:173-176)