The goal is like the idea for the next Facebook buried in a filing cabinet in a company records room. Someone finds it, and tucks it back away, then goes and cashes out all her stock options, and buys out the company.
This single verse koan requires two essential things.
First, you have to recognize the treasure for what it really is before you can cash in your chips for it. Opportunities come to those who are aware enough to notice what others pass by.
Second, but no less important, you have to have the courage to cash in your chips. And it’s not fear of failure that holds most of us back. Exactly the opposite is the case: we’re more often paralyzed by fear of what will become of us if we succeed.
God, don’t take your anger out on me, Or punish me out of rage.
Take it easy on me, Can’t you see, I’m dying here! God, help me get better. I am sick to the bone, And I’m totally terrified. God, how long will this go on?
Save my life, God! Save me because you love me! Dead people can’t remember you, Or give you any commendation.
I’m tired of moaning. Every night I flood my bed with tears. Every night I soak my mattress. I can’t see through the tears, And I’m weak from stress.
Get away from me, you bastards! God has heard my crying. God has heard my prayers. Now all my enemies will be embarrassed, And they’ll know what it is to be afraid. They lose! Their fortunes turn to ruin on a dime.
Some Bibles add a heading about this being prayer of recovery from illness. But if it’s illness, it’s what in the modern world we have come to identify with severe depression and anxiety.
All of the moaning and crying, and even sickness to the bone, is brought on from worry. Worry about the actions of someone else, about things that are beyond our control – enemies. In the end, it turns to bitterness.
Truly, worry is one of the most paralyzing emotions. Little by little it draws the circle of vision inward and constricts the soul, until there is nothing left but bitterness. The psalmist is right in identifying death as being the ultimate result. If not physical death, spiritual and emotional death. Even God seems far off when we are reduced to worry, and everyone becomes an enemy.
What’s the value of a psalm like this?
Hold it up as a picture of where you don’t want to go. Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t let yourself become so obsessed with someone else that you cry yourself to sleep every night, night after night, and waste away day after day. Or if you see yourself in this picture now, get help. Depression is treatable.
You stupid Galatians! Who’s bewitched you? You are witnesses to the public crucifixion of Jesus. So you tell me now, did you get God’s idea by following rules, or by making a commitment to what you’d heard? Are you such idiots that you start with God’s idea but then end up trying to do it on your own? Doesn’t all your experience teach you anything? Apparently not! What does your experience tell you – that God’s work and amazing things happen when you’re following rules, or when you’re true to your commitment?
Paul isn’t going to get any points for making nice here. Calling people stupid idiots is not the way to win friends and influence people.
After you strip away Paul’s scathing tirade, though, the question he’s asking really is worth thinking about. Do amazing things happen when you’re following rules, or do they happen when you’re true to your commitment?
I’d venture to guess that it’s some of both. Sometimes, when you’re starting out with something, you need a few rules. You learn how things work. You find your bearings. Once you know the rules, when you’ve put in the time and become a virtuoso at your art, then, maybe, you can leave the rulebook behind – sometimes.
But, what Paul is furious about is that the Galatians have the capacity to be virtuosos. They have the experience – or Paul thinks they do – to make life following Jesus artful. But in spite of their ability, they’re playing it safe. They’re allowing their fear to rule them, rather than living into the freedom that is theirs for the taking.
So, what about you? Are you fearfully following rules, or are you living into the best of your potential? Is your life an assembly line product, or is at an art?
I am God. I brought you out of Egypt and set you free. Therefore:
Don’t worship any other gods.
Don’t make images of other gods, in whatever form, from anything you may see in the sky or on earth or in the sea. Don’t bow to them or worship them. The dire consequences of doing so will last three or four generations, but do as I say and the benefits will last thousands of years.
Don’t use my name as a curse, or I’ll curse you.
Take one day off in seven. Work for six days, and then take a day off. But one day off per week is sacrosanct. And don’t make anyone else – I don’t care if they’re family, employees, or even the illegal aliens you hired under the table – don’t make anyone else work incessantly either. I got all my work done in six days, you ought to be able to take a day off, too.
Respect your parents if you want to live near home.
Don’t screw around on your spouse.
Don’t tell lies about your neighbors.
Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses.
When the people saw the thunder and lightning, and heard the trumpets and saw the mountain erupting, they were afraid and backed away. They told Moses, “You tell us what God says. We’d rather God didn’t talk to us.”
Moses said, “Don’t be afraid. God just wants to see if you’re going to chicken out, or if you’ll keep your end of the freedom bargain.”
In all the zeal for mounting these in public spaces, what’s often overlooked is that these are not ethical imperatives. These are the enumerated terms of a specific contract. They are the people’s end of a deal, in which the quid-pro-quo on God’s end has already been delivered. God has set them free from Egypt. Now, this is their obligation to God. That’s why it starts with, “Don’t worship any other gods.” That’s why Moses says what he does about chickening out or keeping their end of the deal.
Truth be told, freedom is a fearful thing. It’s much easier when someone (even if it’s a nasty Egyptian boss) is telling you what to do and when to do it. Slavery, grunt work, as unpleasant and back-breaking as it is, doesn’t require any imagination or risk. You do what you’re told, and you get what you expect.
Freedom, on the other hand, always requires responsibility. In the case of the Israelites in the wilderness it was the responsibility to build a vibrant, meaningful, inter-generational community with God at the center of it’s life. These commandments reflect that priority.
Your responsibility, your calling, may be different. But if you’re free then your freedom comes with responsibility to do something great – and that something is exactly the thing you’re most afraid of succeeding at. The particular terms of your freedom contract may differ from those enumerated here. But whatever they are, they come with the fear and force of God behind them. In the presence of that fear you can say, like the Israelites did, “I’d rather not hear that,” and ask someone else to handle it for you. You can always chicken out and go back to being a grunt for someone else.
But God (along with the rest of us) is hoping that in spite of your fear you’ll, keep your end of the freedom bargain, and do something that changes the world.