The Fountain of Life

Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
O LORD, you preserve both man and beast.
How priceless is your unfailing love!
Both high and low among men
find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house; 
   you give them drink from your river of delights. 
For with you is the fountain of life; 
   in your light we see light.

–Psalm 36: 5-9

Yesterday, I was driving home from teaching.  I was alone in the car and listening to the radio, and all of a sudden, I heard the most heavenly strumming on a guitar.  I know nothing about music and notes and such, so I can’t tell you how complicated or intricate the notes were.  They sounded pretty simple to me.  And yet, they were just so beautiful.  They spoke straight to my soul.  You know how when things feel so good, they make you want to close your eyes?  Whether it is a soft breeze while you are totally relaxed, a bite of a surprisingly exquisite morsel of food,  the feel of a back rub, or a really good kiss, there is something in your instincts that tells you to close your eyes so that you can enjoy the feeling more.  That’s what I wanted to do when I heard those guitar chords; I just wanted to close my eyes, sigh deeply, and say, “Thank you, God.”  Unfortunately, I was driving, so closing my eyes would be unwise, but I still felt the deep, abiding peace wash over my soul.  And in that second, I was transported from the surface of my day’s tasks to the depths of enjoyment and fulfillment.

I think that the music was a gift from God.

And I think that sometimes we are scared of those gifts.

I know that I am tempted to live in fear:  fear of enjoying this life too much, of being too worldly, of living as a glutton and and a sinner in a lost and dying land.  I desire to be holy;  after all, that’s what God calls me to be.  I long to live for God completely, and not to be distracted by the things that would take my eyes off Him.  And of course, those desires are right and good.  Of course, those desires are God’s will for us.

Here is what I have found, however.  I have found that when I pursue God with all my heart, when I immerse myself in His word, and put my eyes and my heart on things above, I find that despite all of its darkness, the world is absolutely saturated with God.  It is, after all, His creation.  Thus, we can see Him all throughout it.  Because we are each unique in composition and background, different parts of God’s creation speak to us in different ways, but the common ground is that we can experience His presence in basic things, like nature, music, exercise, food, sex, dancing, playing, and being with people.   At their root, all of these things are God’s invention.  They are gifts He chose to give us.  Yes, they can all be distorted; our fallen nature and the “powers of this dark world” are masters at distorting God’s good and perfect gifts.  But I think it is an absolute shame when we allow our fear of distortion to cripple our sense of enjoyment.  When we do that, we allow sin and darkness to take away the good things that God tries to give us in this life.

Truth be told, I believe that a lot of our fear comes from our view of the Bible.  I think we sometimes try to make the Bible into something that it is not.  We make God’s Word to us into a book of rules instead of door that leads us into a life-giving relationship with our Creator.  We act like we still live in the time of Uzzah, and we use his story as a warning against deviating from the narrow way.  I have two thoughts about that.  The first is, we don’t live in the time of Uzzah.  We are not under the Law (and thank God for that, because I am in Leviticus right now in my daily Bible reading, and I cannot imagine having to slaughter that many animals on a regular basis).  And when we put ourselves under that “law of Uzzah,” we become fearful even of our own capacities for enjoyment.  We don’t trust our thoughts and feelings; after all, Uzzah was just trying to help, and look what happened to him!  And so even though we are told that we have God’s Spirit within us, and even though everything in us tells that there’s nothing wrong with fervently enjoying a succulent bite of salmon or a riff on a guitar or a piece of beautiful art, we still worry that somehow that enjoyment makes us worldly.  And to make matters worse, the law of Uzzah tells us that we can’t view those things as worship or a connection to God, because the only way we can worship God are in the ways that He explicitly prescribes.  I have actually heard more than one sermon making that very point!  It’s like we completely skipped the central message of the New Testament and are back under the Law again, like the book of Acts is the sixth book of the Law!  (And again, apart from the theological absurdity of that position, let me tell you as one wading through Leviticus that, on a literary level, there is no way those two books are parallel.  If I learned anything from the Torah, it’s that when God wants to spell out a bunch of rules, He does it very clearly.)  The irony is that in our fear of being worldly, we separate God from the things He uses to reveal Himself to us.  In doing so, we tell ourselves that we can’t experience God in those things.  And because we cut out God from them, we make them worldly.  The result is that we live compartmentalized lives where we “worship” and “commune with God,” in certain contexts, which leaves the rest of our lives–the stuff like eating and running and being outside and kissing and listening to music and playing games– to be experienced apart from Him.  How sad is that?  I don’t want to live one second apart from God!  I want every moment of my life to be lived in worship to Him!

Secondly, though, I don’t even believe that the “time of Uzzah” is what we think it was.  It is so easy to get overwhelmed by all of God’s many laws in the Old Testament, and to be terrified by God’s treatment of those who step out of line.  I am still working through my understanding of all that, but from my understanding of the New Testament, it seems to me that the point of all those rules was to show us that they didn’t work.  And even with all those laws in place, people still communed with God through the normal elements of their lives.  For me, perhaps the best thing to come out of the Old Testament is the example of David.  David messed up all the time (and not just the Bathsheba thing:  when you read his story, there are all sorts of lies and acts of deception mixed in with the good stuff).  And yet, David was called “a man after God’s own heart.”  It’s hard to pin down exactly why he received such a wonderful title, but my running theory is that David was a man after God’s own heart because he saw God in everything.  He saw God in nature, in music, in sorrow, in dancing like a crazy person.

Perhaps that’s why David described God as a fountain of life.  “In your light we see light.”  Even as a sinful man, David was able to see the light in nature and dancing and music and such because he was already immersed in God’s light.  And so perhaps those today who “walk in the light,” as John puts it, are able to see all the sources of light that are already around them.  Perhaps God’s light helps them to test everything, hold onto the good, and avoid every kind of evil.  Maybe the fountain of life that comes from God allows us to connect with Him in everything He gives us.

Thinking about David’s words about the fountain of life reminds me of James’ description of God’s gifts:  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  Today, I’m so thankful for the good and perfect gifts of sunrises and good music and homemade tomato soup and my son’s drawings.  I’m thankful that I don’t have to wait for heaven to get a drink from the fountain of life.

How do you experience God in this life?

(In case you were curious, the guitar riff in question was the first thirty seconds here.)

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11 responses to this post.

  1. didn’t Jesus use everyday things of the world to explain His message to the people? why should we expect any less? if you read my blog, you’ll see that God recently used billboards to speak to me. and fog on a bridge. and He taught me about servantship in the line at the grocery store.

    who are we to judge what God uses, to put His way and will into a box and confine Him? i look for Him all day in all ways. and i pray that i don’t miss Him.

    Reply

    • I agree, Ann, that God can use all things to teach us. What I see more and more, though, is that we can experience God not just through “lessons,” but through our very enjoyment of the things He has created for us. Yes, we are fallen creatures, and we have the uncanny ability to corrupt the good things that God gives us, but at the same time, I do think we can experience those basic elements of life in the way they were meant to be experienced. In other words, I can be moved by a beautiful piece of music and not come away with a single definitive thought on God, but still be connected to him through the beauty of the music and the enjoyment I get out of it. On a similar note, I seem to remember a similar point you made over coffee once about what connects you to God most in this life, and it wasn’t Bible study. (Do you recall?:)) I guess the main point of this post is to reject the dualism that sees all “worldly” things as evil. Not only do I see them as NOT evil, I see more and more clearly how they can reveal God to me.

      Reply

  2. exactly!

    (hhhmm, that is funny, i vaguely remember that, too…but i can’t remember WHAT! that is bad.)

    Reply

  3. Kim, first of all, AMEN! I completely agree and I wish people would realize this more.

    Second, I am slightly freaked out because I just got done giving a lesson to the ladies here about how God is light, and I even used Psalm 36:9. (I will post the lesson on my blog soon so you can see exactly what I’m talking about.) I make different points than you do here, but some of your statements flesh out well (and go a step further than) where I am trying to go with my thoughts. I am still in the middle of writing the 2nd and 3rd lessons on the same topic, and I just left off at the point where I need to discuss what John says about Jesus being the light. Anyway, I definitely feel like we’re on the same wavelength.

    I confess to having guilt over enjoying things in life. For me it’s not so much the little moments you describe here but the bigger things. (I already feel pretty much justified in enjoying the little things.) For instance, I left a house in the States that I really, really liked in order to come here, only to be getting another beautiful house. Of course, I wasn’t expecting that. We are going for what is available to us at a price we can afford, and it just happens to have (for example) beautiful ornate tile (which we didn’t know about beforehand). On one hand, I feel like I am sinning by being so “extravagant.” On the other, I feel like it would be a sin NOT to be thankful for that with which God is blessing us. (After all, we didn’t go looking for something as nice as we are getting. When we first said we wanted the house, we thought it would have 3 bedrooms. We had no idea that they were going to build 2 additional bedrooms in the back for a total of 5.) I catch myself daydreaming about color schemes, and I have to remind myself that I am not here for that kind of thing. However, I also have to remind myself that God doesn’t mandate that we live in an ugly house. Maybe there is a reason why He is blessing us so abundantly, and we should just go with it and enjoy it. I mean, if I gave someone a gift so that they could use it for a good purpose (let’s say I gave Jacob a really, really nice guitar so that he could perform for people) but then they were too afraid to touch it, I would be offended and sad.

    I guess the difference is whether or not we are expecting to receive these blessings and whether or not we would be willing to give them up if asked to. Sin comes in when we cling to the “stuff” (or to the euphoria of the other things you described) instead of clinging to God. We become addicted instead of simply enjoying things while we have them and then letting them go.

    Anyway, really good thoughts. (Okay, and I can’t resist asking… So, are you saying then that we CAN worship God with instruments???) 🙂

    Reply

    • Wow, Becky, that IS crazy that you just did a lesson on Ps. 36:9! I don’t think I had every really looked at that verse, so it was weird how much it jumped out at me this time (and just to be sure, I checked my BIble blog. Yep, last time, I was too focused on the first four verses of that psalm to move on.) I can’t wait to read what you taught on your blog!

      Reply

    • I love what you said about your house Becky – as a missionary’s kid we learned early on how important our environment was. We lived in Russia..talk about yuck. Mom made a huge point to creating a space for us taht we was beautiful and warm for us. No matter where were, in Russia, Estonia or any other place …our home was always a priority for mom. As a grownup kid …I appreciate that so much. Color schemes and stuff can help us find a shallow level of peace that helps us dig to the deeper kind – the kind that blesses our senses which we need to exercise to get to experience God in his fullness. I pray your home blesses you that way!

      Reply

  4. Kim this is great. Through the first half of your post I kept thinking of Psalm 42:7 – “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” It’s like God reaches out to us in ways that we can’t understand or put into words sometimes.

    Then in the second half I kept thinking of that scene in Prince Caspian (or was it one of the other books) where Lucy and Susan celebrate Aslan’s return with Bacchus and have a great time, but they also recognize they’d never have wanted to party with Bacchus without Aslan. That’s how I see all these things in the world. Jesus not only wants us to enjoy them, he wants us to enjoy them with him!

    Nice job, Kim. You really helped me think through these things. Thanks.

    Tim

    Reply

    • Thanks, Tim. I like the concept of God reaching us in ways we can’t understand or put into words. I definitely relate to that idea. There have been so many times where I feel so close to Something I don’t quite understand, but I know it’s important and true and beautiful. And while I haven’t read the Chronicles of Narnia (I know–crazy, right?), I love that idea of spending time with Bacchus…with Aslan there. Exactly!

      Reply

  5. Love. I think that we have to take the time to experience God in every way he gave us to do it – he gave us 5 senses cause we can experience him in all of them. The smell of my mom, or of chocolate chip cookies ..yum, there is a little God there. 😉

    Reply

    • “chocolate chip cookies” – OK Courtney, now you’re making me hungry!

      Tim

      P.S. Speaking of experiencing food, I’m doing a guest post on Rachel Stone’s blog Eat With Joy tomorrow that’s all about that.

      Reply

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