A week before Christmas I should be blogging about peace on earth and goodwill toward men. But because of the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary this past Friday and the commentary I have heard about it, I felt compelled to write about some well-meaning yet messed up theology. Let me explain…
Over the past several days, I have heard several famous people talk about how “God called those children home” and other comments along those same lines. While those words are meant to bring comfort to the parents of the victims as well as to the rest of America, those words really bothered me.
Now if you’re a student of the Bible you may be quick to point out Psalm 139, believing it teaches that God “ordained” how many days you were going to live. Here’s what that Psalm says:
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. – Psalm 139:16 (NASB)
At first glance, this Psalm seems like a beautiful thing. Believing that God ordained our “check in” date and that He ordained our “check out” date. It is comforting in many ways to believe this…under normal circumstances when a person dies peacefully at a nice, old age.
But when tragedy happens, this interpretation of Psalm 139 raises more questions than answers, and leads to some very confusing conclusions. For example, when Adam Lanza took the lives of 20 beautiful children…does Psalm 139 teach that December 14, 2012 was God’s ordained “check out” for those 6 and 7 year olds? And if that’s true, does that mean that God was somehow orchestrating those horrific events behind the scenes? That it was part of God’s predestined plan for the lives of those children and the cross that God predestined for their devastated parents to bear?
No. NO. NO!
The Bible teaches us that Jesus is our complete picture of God (see Hebrews 1:3). So if you want to know the heart and character of God you need to focus your attention on the biographies of Jesus: the gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And when you read them you’ll see a God who says, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them. For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Matthew19:14). Jesus doesn’t gun down children in cold blood. He loves them. He blesses them.
Along those lines, I love this quote from pastor Bill Johnson of Bethel Church: In 2,000 years there has been such a shift in people’s theology that a large part of the body of Christ now believes God took over the devil’s job. It used to be believed that the devil came to kill, steal, and destroy. Now we give God the credit for doing those things.
But what about the theology of Psalm 139?
In the space remaining let me suggest how to correctly read and interpret Psalm 139. Disclaimer: there are theology textbooks discussing this issue and in contrast, there is only so much I can say in an 750-word blog. That being said, here are some things to consider, some food for thought…
1st – we need to remember the type of literature we are discussing. The book of Psalms is NOT historical narrative. It is poetry. And we can get into trouble if we take a poem’s words more literally than the author intended. For example, Psalm 18 says God is a rock.
2nd – in a single Psalm we may not realize that we switch how literally or how figuratively we read it from verse-to-verse. For example, we can be like certain folks and take verse 16 of this poem hyper-literally, believing God ordained our “check out” date. But here is what this poem says just one verse earlier about the time you spent in your mother’s womb: …when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. – Psalm 139:15 (NIV). No person on the planet is going to believe verse 15 is literal! And this begs the question: if verse 15 contains figurative imagery, how about verse 16?
Psalm 139 is a beautiful expression of God’s intimate involvement in our lives on a moment-by-moment basis. But we should not press this poem for literal details. And we should not apply it to the events that took place in Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday.
***Join us this Sunday at The Eastside Vineyard Church. It’s our Christmas service! It will include a Bible teaching on the birth of Jesus through the eyes of Joseph, communion, singing Christmas carols, as well as a special presentation from our Vineyard Kids that will remind us all of the true meaning of Christmas. Sunday December 23. 10:30am. More info at tevchurch.org***