The night I figured this passage out came on the heels of a jolt that threw me from my orange, Scott’s riding lawn tractor. That kind of flight I had never had before, but on the last drip to empty the clippings while driving with the speed on max I hit the undercarriage on an exposed tree root. Since Newton’s first law of motion had not slipped and since I was not strapped onto my tractor (that would be weird anyway) off I flew in a bit of an awkward bumble. I don’t think the root was happy for I gave it a nice slice, but happy or not me, the root and the lawn had our moment. That bump is a bit how I felt when I read the following section in Psalm 18.
20 The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. 21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. 22 For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me. 23 I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt. 24 So the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight. (Psalm 18:20-24–ESV)
Corollaries on Newton’s laws of motion
Jolts don’t announce themselves. That might be the first law of jolts.
Jolts don’t explain themselves. That might be the second law.
When I flew off that tractor and ended up on the leaves beside it I had to look and figure out what I ran into.
Jolts can happen when reading our Bibles
Why the jolt from verse 20? When I first started to work on it I could not really even put it into words. I just knew I hit something in my brain and went tumbling into the mental woods.
Well the answer came as I walked up and down the road reading, praying and wondering. “Aha!” came the answer, “David is presuming that the good things in his life are because he lived a good life!” My skeptical and maybe scientifically framed mind sees a statement like David makes and says, “Hold on a minute. How do you know that the good things you have experienced are God’s response to your good deeds? After all, David, don’t you fret that good things happen to bad people in other songs? And don’t you sweat that bad things happen to good people in other places? You are presuming. It is not as though God popped into your palace with his portfolio of your deeds and having reviewed them said, ‘the outcome you have is because of these things you have done. Good work.'”
Maybe when you read this you are inclined to think1 I am sacrilegious for saying such a thing or putting such a set of words into God’s mouth. Remember, though, this was a jolt. I read the passage and at least stubbed my mental toe. When I stub my toe while reading the Bible I try to dig deeper until I figure it out.
The untangling of this passage came while I walked up and down that cool Saturday evening on Anderson Lane. David’s approach to life had been one where he set his mind to do right. He had come to a point where there was enough satisfaction, enough good that his life had simmered down. His life had not always been that way. He chose to live his life in faith that what God said he would do and David stuck it out through thick and thin adhering to God’s principles along the way. At the point of his writing his he connected these good things to God. Some people would say, “look what I have provided for myself by my own efforts.” Some would say, “I was good and so God owed me and now look what I have gotten.” David chose a path of gratitude taking on faith that the good things in his life were God’s blessings. He did not say good things were his from good karma or his own hand, but credits them to God which is still by faith.
So, David is not presumptuous or praising himself for being so righteous. David was faithful and grateful.
I may have flown off my lawn tractor, but by faith I have not flown off my Christianity. God is present for us. God comes alongside of us. God teaches us all things, but always balances our perceptions of him in such a manner that faith is not discarded.