Psalm 87: Where Were You Born?

I know I’ve written of home before, but it’s a topic worth repeating for it’s what I believe to be the central theme of Book III of the Psalms.

In a very real sense, our identity is built on the home in which we were born. The first and obvious factor is our genetics. We all share genetic material from our parents, regardless of whether we know them or love them: we are half our father’s child and half our mother’s. But our identity doesn’t stop with mere genetics, we have personality traits that define us as well, many of them picked up from our parents, and siblings (if we have any). The older I get, whether I like it or not, I am increasingly able to identify which actions and attitudes of mine mirror those I’ve seen in one of the members of the family in which I was born.

But I am not the only one to see these traits, others notice the same things. I’ve heard many comments about how much like my mother or my father I am. Sometimes they say I look like them, sometimes they say I act like them, and sometimes it’s something much more subtle: sometimes they say there is a general, intangible feel about my personality that reminds them of my parents.

There are times I’ve taken this as very bad news, for there are things I do not like about my parents. But there are other times when I’ve found it welcome news as my parents were often amazing and quite magnanimous. However, regardless of whether I like it or not, I’ve resigned myself to becoming a partial copy of my parents. And from what I can tell, my experience is nearly universal.

I’ve recently been thinking about how my parentage has affected my identity and I find that an overwhelming sense of home emerges. My genetic and family influence have become an old skin in which I am the most comfortable. My identity is like an old sweatshirt I can’t seem to part with or an old pair of shoes whose heels have worn flat but are more comfortable than shoes decades newer. But there are other times, many times when I long to discard the sweatshirt or throw out the shoes. There are times I long for a different identity, different genetics, and a different home. It doesn’t necessarily mean I reject my parents, it just means I long for something different than what I currently have and am. But in those times when I hear someone say “he’s just like his father” or “you are very much like your mother” I cringe, wishing I had a different identity. But that’s something we can’t change…isn’t it?

Paul said, in II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” meaning that Christ gives us a new identity. While I don’t think he changes our genetic material, he does change our lineal parentage from being sons and daughters of Adam to being sons and daughters of God. When this happens, it is no longer completely accurate to say that we were born in our parents home, for we have been born anew in God’s home: Zion.

The phrase, “this one was born there” occurs three times in Psalm 87, causing me to think of a few other “threes” in Scripture: Peter denied Christ three times, the rooster crowed three times, Christ stated his love for Peter three times. It’s almost as if hundreds of years before Peter’s denial (which was thousands of years before we started sinning) at a time when Israel was wondering where their home was, God wanted to assure us that we are his children and he wants us to know that our true home and true identity is found in his holy house on Mt. Zion.

But God is not content with merely telling us where our new home lies, he wants to tell us about how joyful life in him is supposed to be. Psalm 87 closes with an odd little verse stating that “singers and dancers alike say, ‘All my springs are in you’” meaning that when we have been born of God we find life and joy.

Life and joy are not found in my genetic identity or family home, nor is it found in any number of new identities I take and new homes I occupy in the hope that I will find peace and joy. Psalm 87 offers a new home where a new identity is forged and from which springs of life-giving water flow. God offers us Zion, the holy city where his son would eventually live. The same son who claimed to be the living water from which all men can drink to slake their thirst for eternity. He said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

In the garden of Eden, rivers flowed and watered the land; in Psalm 1, rivers give life to fruit-bearing trees; in Revelation, living water flows from the throne and brings life to all; and in Christ, living water flows from him into our very souls. While we may struggle for a lifetime with the old sweatshirt of our identity, we must realize there is no other spring than Christ and there is no other home than Zion.

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