One thing I have learned during my brief time on earth is that the truth, no matter how painful, is far better than sugar-coated lies. However, speaking honestly, I don’t always live this way: the shallow lies are often too comforting. But I’ve also learned that I’m not the first person to find comfort in shallow lies. The Israelites, during the time of Jeremiah, also preferred shallow lies over painful truth. It is this to which Jeremiah responds in the following verses:
An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction:
my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes? (Jeremiah 5:30-31)
The Israelites believed the false messages so intensely that they no longer were able to discern truth from a lie. Even after they had been taken into exile, something the false prophets had said would not happen, they were still intent on listening to the messages filled with false hope (see Jeremiah 29:4-9).
This reminds me of a scene in the film The Matrix, where Cypher, a man who had been freed from a computer generated world, is seated at an elegant dining table with one of the controllers of the computer world. As Cypher is brokering a deal to be reinserted into the matrix, he takes a bite of steak and says,
You know. I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it my mouth, the matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.
While none of us live in ancient Israel and none of us are living in a computer-generated world (as far as we know), we are not so different from either of them. Many of us would rather not hear the truth about how dark this world can be.
When I was growing up I frequently heard the message that as long as one follows Christ with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength then life will be blissful. But I think this message is much like the steak Cypher consumed: juicy and delicious, but false. Now to be fair, I don’t believe anyone deliberately tried to deceive me, as some of the prophets in ancient Israel did, but the false message was received nonetheless.
I think it took me a number of years after graduating from a college before I realized life can’t be explained by such a simple formula. Even though I pursue God with my whole being this is still a dark world filled with many people like those Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred described in The Dark Knight when he said, “some men aren’t looking for anything logical like money, they can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with, some men just want to watch the world burn.”
It is this painful truth that David acknowledges in Psalm 70:2-3 where he says,
Let them be put to shame and confusion who seek my life!
Let them be turned back and brought to dishonor who delight in my hurt!
Let them turn back because of their shame who say, “Aha, Aha!”
This cry for judgment upon the wicked men is not new a new cry to David as many psalms petition God for the destruction of the wicked. But David is not the only one with such a cry in his heart, many of us have prayed the same thing, (I know I have, just look at my comments in Psalm 28: Judgment or Mercy?). But this truth is not the entire point of Psalm 70.
The point of Psalm 70 is the painful truth that I don’t recall hearing when I was a child. David retained his hope for God’s salvation even while in the midst of being attack by wicked men. David longed for God’s love and salvation and even looked forward to a time when he could rejoice and be glad in God: a time when he might have the will to say “God is great!” (70:4). But David did not live in that time while he wrote Psalm 70. In spite of the enemies attack and David’s hopeful cries, God was distant, seemingly holding back his arm of protection.
Our aversion to this painful truth reminds me of how we often view the story of Lazarus: we focus on Lazarus being raised from the dead, but rarely recognize that Jesus waited two days after hearing of Lazarus’ illness before going to him. We must remember that during those two days Jesus waited Lazarus suffered and died and his sisters grew angry, even questioning Jesus’ love and commitment. It is important to recognize that times are no different today: God often withholds help, awaiting the proper time for his salvation while we remain ill and dying. But it is important for us to follow David’s example while living under the oppression of wicked men. We must not despair but retain hope in God’s sure, yet distant, salvation.
But I’ll understand if you’d rather have the sugar-coating, so here it is: love God and everything will always be perfect.