73 Your hands have made and fashioned me;
give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
74 Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
because I have hoped in your word.
75 I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right,
and that in faithfulness you have humbled me.
76 Let your steadfast love become my comfort
according to your promise to your servant.
77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
for your law is my delight.
78 Let the arrogant be put to shame,
because they have subverted me with guile;
as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.
79 Let those who fear you turn to me,
so that they may know your decrees.
80 May my heart be blameless in your statutes,
so that I may not be put to shame.
Many Christians find reading Psalm 119 similar to reading Numbers or portions of Chronicles. It feels like the same thing over and over and over and over. When I was younger, I used a devotional method in which you read the Psalm for the day of the month and every 30th Psalm after that, meaning one would theoretically read the entire book of Psalms in a month. Admittedly, whenever I would reach the 29th day of the month, well, I would internally cringe knowing that the reading for the day would include "the dreaded Psalm." Something tells me I'm neither the first nor the last reader of the Hebrew scriptures to feel this way. In February of a non-leap-year, I would mentally leap for joy. In months with 31 days, I would simply save Psalm 119 for the 31st day and read it by itself. Still, all that talk about the law felt hard to stomach at times.
Twenty-five times in the entire psalm — that's how frequently you'll find the word "law" in Psalm 119 (at least in the NRSV). For a gay man like me, any talk of God's "law" felt like a knife to the neck, waiting to sever an artery. In my pre-coming-out days when my prayers were filled with supplications for God to change, fix, or straighten me out, the law referred to those passages in Leviticus that pointed out just how broken I was, that reminded me of the doom I would face should I surrender myself to my heathen ways. In short, the law was a tool of shame and oppression. It certainly wasn't something in which I could ever find myself experiencing "delight."
Yet at the beginning of this passage, we're reminded of a key fact: God made each and every one of us. Maybe the law here isn't the written down record of some ancient rulebook. Maybe it's something deeper. Maybe it starts with relationship, with God knowing us and with us knowing God. Read verse 80: May my heart be blameless in your statutes, so that I may not be put to shame. This doesn't sound like someone who is simply trying to live by the rules. This sounds like a child seeking a parent's deepest approval, longing for a sense of acceptance.
There are times in scripture when "the law" seems to drone on endlessly, confusing even the most wise. And then there are other times when we're given the shorthand: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God; love God with everything you've got, and love your neighbor as yourself; ask, seek, knock. Maybe it isn't about getting the law exactly right, but about being faithful to the law's intent: teaching us how to be the best and most authentic version of who God created us to be.
**If you want to follow along with the devotional lectionary I’ll be using for this series, you can find it here via Pittsburgh Theological Seminary**
photo credit: Woody Hibbard (via Flickr)