Psalm 4, Joy, and Idolatry

Those pesky thorns and weeds are impossible to get rid of.  Farmers use herbicides, and I use chemicals in my yard trying to kill weeds so the grass can grow.  But somehow they keep showing up.  This is so true in life too!  In the Parable of the Soils (Mark 4:1-20) Jesus uses thorns as an analogy of the things in life that compete with our faith and allegiance to Jesus.  There are so many things in our lives that so easily displace our love and surrender to Christ.  How do we rid ourselves of the thorns of anxiety, materialism, lust for the stuff of the world?

The religious route is to replace them with religious service and duty.  But that won’t work, because pride will replace the other idols as we begin to believe the true God is in our debt because of our service and good works.  Self-discipline is a route to failure as well, either because we won’t overcome the thorns or once again, we will get proud and look down our nose at others who can’t overcome their struggles.

Psalm 4:6-7 offer a clue.  In this prayer, David is speaking of people who are prosperous so they are ever feasting and drinking wine.  If we look at these things and believe that joy is found in the feast and the party, we will pursue those things with vigor, only to find that they offer hollow promises, with the end being greed, gluttony, and drunkenness.  But the real issue for the Psalmist is the realization of joy.  He says, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”  Do you see what he is claiming, he wants God’s presence in his life more than these things because the outcome is greater joy than these things can ever offer.  Too often we view God’s perspective as it relates to our thorns and decide that God is opposed to our joy, that he really wants to take away the things that will make us happy.  We feel guilty about sex, drink, too much TV, over-commitment to sports, or whatever the driving forces of our lives, but we keep believing that ultimate happiness will be found in these things.  So God frustrates us because it seems that He is opposed to that which we believe will make us happy.  This attitude is reflected in the question raise by the many in verse 6, “Who will show us some good?”  In other words, if we live for and obey God we will discover that he does not really want what is best for us.  David’s response is that when we feel this way, what we need most is the face of God shining on us.

C. S. Lewis put it this way in his book The Weight of Glory.
“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desire, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Removing the thorns will never happen until they are replaced with something, actually our understanding that someone offers greater joy.  Only when we see the beauty of Christ and the offer of complete and infinite joy found in His glory will we genuinely see our idols as what they are, worthless substitutes for God.

One Response to “Psalm 4, Joy, and Idolatry”

  1. D Stein says:

    LOVE that CS Lewis quote!