Psalm 90 begins with familiar words. They are often spoken in times of great distress, perhaps at a funeral or during times of a community-wide disaster. “Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” After a listing of the troubles and sorrows of life, including the brevity thereof, the psalm closes with these words:”May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.”
Today’s readings are the above psalm, along with Numbers 17 and 2 Peter 3. The latter bears a remarkable similarity to the psalm, in that it begins with a reminder, concludes with an encouraging word, and lists troubles and challenges between. The epistle opens with words of purpose:”I have written . . . as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.”
Wholesome thinking. We live in an exceedingly health conscious age; we might even call it an obsession for many people. Every day we seem to have on one hand new warnings about the potential dangers to our health of foods to which we have grown accustomed, sometimes even on the advice of medical experts—only to learn that on further testing in laboratories that some poor experimental animals endured terrifying consequences from this same food; on the other hand, we are told that more regular consumption of a previously under-appreciated food item can fight off various maladies of which we had never heard. Exercise is a good thing. It keeps us both mentally and physically fit, or at least we must expect it to do so, given all of the health and fitness facilities in virtually any community. They are good things. But what about our minds? How wholesome is the condition of the mind?
One can readily find “Christian” marketing of both food and fitness options, often sold to us (at higher rates of profit than their supposedly secular counterparts, by the way) as things that will benefit our spiritual lives. Perhaps. A considerable number of true believers run to these products and services, longing for wholeness. Yet many of the same people neglect the health of their minds. It is easy to do, particularly in a time when there is so much else on our schedules. When we do consider the bigger issues of life, we are prone to letting someone else provide this service as well, someone to do our thinking for us, that is. Give a sound-byte, make sure it has a Bible verse or two attached to it, and adopt it as the “biblical” answer to whatever question arises.
As both Psalm 90 and 2 Peter 3 both indicate, however, there inevitably comes a time or times during which the sound bite type of faith will leave us wanting. For the psalmist it was the inevitability of tragedy and the end of life; the epistle adds to this the deliberate scoffing and ridicule from those who choose not to honor God and would like to discourage the rest of us from taking Him seriously as well. Whatever the nature of the difficulty being faced, the remedy is the same: get perspective.
Wholesome thinking begins with seeing the world as it is—the arena of God’s creating, redeeming activity, carried out in spite of our insistence upon ignoring Him and what is truly our well-being and our hope. Advent begins the Christian year by calling us to remember the story that makes sense of the world. We look at the record; we consider our end, both as individual human persons and as actors on the stage of the history God is redeeming through the coming Christ. It is a time for us to step back and re-evaluate whether the many concerns occupying our minds are those which give attention and gain direction from the God who gives us life and hope. The fear of the Lord really is the beginning of wisdom. Give your mind a fitness test this Advent season. What does it dwell upon?