Life in the Shadow of Babylon
As a Christian I know that I am in need of a kind of food that comes from the word of God. The foods of our world run out and satisfy only for a moment. But the food from the mouth of God flows constant like a river that nourishes and plants and brings forth more food. The most lasting of my devotional practices has been Bible memorization.
To me, the great thing about memorization is that simply in order to do it, you wind up chewing gently on Bible verses like a piece of hard candy, so that you taste a thousand different flavors from them, when a single read-through would give you only one or two. Keeping them in your active vocabulary brings them to mind again and again. When I was in college I read a story about a Russian woman who had emigrated to America and went blind later in life. The author (her granddaughter) marveled that even after the old woman could no longer even read for herself, she could still go back to the treasure chest of poetry that she had learned in her youth and run it through her mouth like a feast for her weary soul. I'd like to be able to do that with Scripture.
I have lately been attempting to ascend the Mt. Everest of Bible chapters, Psalm 119, and I have come across a verse that speaks to the very anxieties I feel in Michael Lewis' portrait of the financial world:
119:23-24 "Even though rulers sit and plot against me, I will meditate on your statutes. For your decrees are my delight, and they are my counselors."
On the face of it, these verses are inappropriate for my situation. No rulers are directly plotting my demise, and the decrees of God are NOT my primary delight.
But here is how I am reading this passage.
First off, many people are plotting against me in the sense that powerful people around the world are actively planning things that could do real harm to me, my family, my church family, etc. In the case of modern finance, it seems clear enough that some very powerful individuals who handle large amounts of other peoples' money (including mine) have only their own interests in mind, and continue to think up new ways of stealing from the investments with which they are entrusted.
The bottom line is that I can do nothing about it. The problem lives on such a large scale that for an average person like you & me, it is akin to the possibility of doing something about a meteor crashing into the earth. I can only be thankful for the warning, and hope that responsible regulators (of whom there are many) step up to the challenge presented to them. Note: I am not advocating for a kind of do-nothing-ism. I am advocating for the kinds of mental discipline that Psalm 119 advocates, which is this: Focus on God and His words.
The second problem to overcome is confusion about the words "statutes" and "decrees". To many Christians these represent the Law, the very thing from which Christ came to free us. I believe this is a misunderstanding about the nature and purpose of the Law, and that it becomes a barrier for Christians today when we try to read the Psalms, or even think about what it means to obey God. Without going into all the details here, "the Law" (ὁ νόμος) is a good, but not complete translation of the Hebrew idea of Torah, which is not so much a legal code as a blueprint for what it looks like to walk with, to, and under God.
It comes as no surprise then that Christians were first called people of "the Way" (ἡ ὁδός) in Acts 9:2, which was likely their ownterm for self-identification, and which highlights their relationship to God's way of life (Torah). To meditate on the statutes and decrees of God, then, is to meditate on the way of life, which is at the same time God's commands and the man Jesus, since all of history finds its meaning in Him, blessed be He. Once I make this step, it becomes clear that I can and should meditate on God's statues and decrees.
But still, they are not my delight. It is true! I have learned the verse but I have still not learned to delight in the decrees of God in the way that the Psalmist does. HOWEVER (and this is a big however) I have learned to delight in God's decrees more than I did before, and they have become my counselors more than they were before I asked the question, "Who are my counselors in this situation?"
The fact is that memorizing God's words cannot save me or you or make you love him. The Devil knows the Bible better than I probably ever will. But he knows it from the outside, as something to be used and manipulated. When Christians memorize the Bible, we are invited by God to learn it from the inside and to be molded by it into creatures of his glory.
That is how Psalm 119 is helping me deal with anxieties about world finance, at least today.