Psalm 34: I Wonder What Would Happen to this World?


I was talking with a friend the other day about many of today’s problems and how Christians should respond. At some point in the conversation she said something like “I’m tired of all the people who say ‘Jesus is the answer’ and then do nothing about it on their own.” I didn’t respond at the time but I’ve been thinking quite a bit about her comment since then.

On the one hand, I’m not willing to give up the simple profound truth that Jesus is indeed the answer. But on the other hand, that answer can’t be used to shirk our personal responsibility. Even Jesus seemed to affirm both when in response to a question about the most important commandment, he said, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

It’s fascinating that Jesus responded with two commandments when he was asked about the single best commandment. I think he did this because the two are inseparable: you cannot love God without loving others, and you cannot love others without first loving God: they are not either-or but both-and. Furthermore, I think the majority of today’s problems come from an either-or approach to life, but the solutions are found by taking a both-and approach. Let me explain what I mean.

One of my favorite musicians, Harry Chapin, wrote many songs during the tumultuous 60’s and early 70’s about life’s tensions and struggles as well as some solutions offered at the time. One of the solutions he proposes is found in the song titled I Wonder What Would Happen to this World where he asks the question how the world would be different if just one person decided to “prove before he died/what one man’s life could be worth.” In a key portion of this song Chapin contrasts two different approaches:

Oh well, I wonder, yes, I wonder
‘Bout what would happen
What would happen to this world?
Well, I wonder what would happen to this world?

Disciple children walk the streets, selling books and flowers
Can they be last ones with a semblance of a dream?
If we say that no one’s out there and we say we’re goin’ nowhere
Can we avoid the question, is this all that it means?

Oh, if a man tried to take his time on earth
And prove before he died
What one man’s life could be worth
Well I wonder what would happen to this world

For Chapin, as well as many today, solutions do not come from anywhere else other than ourselves. The “disciple children” Chapin speaks of are the religious people going door to door offering a transcendent answer to life’s problems, but Chapin suggests their answer is only a dream, not a solution. In contrast, he says there are those who “say that no one’s out there and we say we’re goin’ nowhere…”  who offer no answers because we only live, die, and become dust, that’s it. Chapin’s solution is to wonder what would happen if a person tried to make changes on his own. The transcendent answer is a pipe-dream, despair is unhelpful, thus we are left with only one answer, an immanent one: humanity. We are the solution to our problems.

But if we contrast Chapin’s solution to the words of Psalm 34 we find a different conclusion. The psalmist tells us we must glorify the transcendent God (v. 1-3) then seek him, look for him, and call out to him (v. 4-7). He promises we will find God is good to all who seek him (v. 8-10). After this appeal, the psalmist offers to teach us the fear of the Lord:

Come, O children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
What man is there who desires life
    and loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil
    and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn away from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.

Do you see what he is saying? If we keep from speaking evil and choose to do good and pursue peace, we will see many good days! The fear of the Lord is a both-and proposition. We must acknowledge and seek God, AND we must seek to do good and pursue peace. It should then be no wonder the remaining verses of Psalm 34 (v. 15-22) tell how God hears the righteous, saves those crushed in spirit, and delivers those who love him. But does the psalmist tell how God will deliver them? I believe he does. In a quick study of the outline of the psalm, we find the psalmist implying God’s deliverance is by the hand of the righteous who have sought him, found him to be good, and are now seeking goodness and peace in this world.

It is both-and, not either-or. We must go to Jesus, for he is the answer, AND we must get off of our backsides and love others with the Love of God.

Now that makes me think of a question that is really worth asking: I wonder what would happen to this world if each man turned to God and then worked to fix the problems around him?

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