Thanksgiving week is upon us—long my favorite holiday—and for many people, there doesn't seem to be much to be thankful for. Our communities, our cities, our nation, the world: all seem to be going in an alarming direction.
Thousands of Americans are losing their jobs as 2012 winds down (see here for a daily counter of reported layoffs). European anti-austerity protests, mounted by people who have been in worse unemployment conditions than Americans for a decade or more, are growing violent. The terrorist group Hamas, having launched more than 800 rockets into Israel in 2012—300 of them in the last week—has drawn a major military response in Gaza to its provocations. The Israeli military operation is likely to reach the level and intensity of Operation Cast Lead in early 2009.
In the United States, the painful spectacle of retired General David Petraeus's professional downfall is unfolding before a weary public, alongside a raft of equally unsavory stories, some involving another Army general. Meanwhile, Congress doubts the White House's assertions about the attack in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed. By the time you read this, Mr. Petraeus will probably have testified to Congress about the Benghazi attack—a necessary performance, of course, given that Petraeus was the CIA Director when the attack occurred. But the prospect of it has served to keep all the most salacious gossip of the past week in the headlines.
Many Americans feel as if we're living through the final minutes of Anthony Mann's 1964 film The Fall of the Roman Empire. Others are just very tired of thinking about it all. There are good reasons for that. People's finances are precarious; the news is uniformly bad; it seems that every day brings a new trial.
And that, I think, is what the first five verses of Psalm 103 were given to us for. I've been repeating these verses and rejoicing in them over and over again during the last three months. Just imagine what we can expect from the Lord if the words are true:
Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
(All citations NIV.)
In case your eyes glaze over when you read quoted material, I'll just recap: David is praising the Lord because the Lord does the following:
- Forgives all our sins.
- Heals all our diseases.
- Redeems our lives from the pit.
- Crowns us with love and compassion.
- Satisfies our desires with good things so that our youth is renewed like the eagle's.
This is one of those scriptures you either believe or don't. And just think about what this passage is saying, if you do believe it. Whatever we think may be happening to our countries or the world, these are still the things God does for those whose hearts are turned to Him.
I believe these promises are to the individual; as you know, I understand God's great project on earth to be the redemption of individual lives. If these promises become blessings to a nation, the blessings flow through the individuals in that nation who expect and receive them. The blessings can flow outward from any person, no matter how poor or "lowly."
But to flow at all, they must be expected by individuals, so that we can receive them. What if the task of Christians today is to call on God for these blessings, for ourselves and those around us?
Consider: in each of our lives, how many sins have we been forgiven, from before we acknowledged that we were committing sins? If God gave up on us the way we give up on each other, a good 99 percent of the Christians who have ever lived would have failed to acknowledge their sins in time to be saved.