I was not even half a decade old when I stumbled upon what seemed like a crooked discovery. I was quite tall for my age and somehow endued with modest intelligence. My father’s love for knowledge somehow hitched my delight in learning, while picking up clues from his analytical mind and passion for chess. I always lingered as he finished reading the morning newspaper so that I could glance over next. I often wondered why he primarily pondered on the editorial section. I would try reading the first few lines and quickly skid towards the comic section for a scoop of wit and humor. It never occurred to me that the best jokes were to be found in the editorials of human involvements.
My mother was a licensed pharmacist and so she took prescribing about almost anything, rather seriously. She gravitates towards fashion and initiating friendships. One day, she spoke of her alliance with the new first grade teacher. They had some kind of an internal conspiracy. Since there was some shortage of kid-sitters that month, I was inadvertently enrolled without prior proof of requirements. It was probably an inconsequential detail for both but I was only a four-year old smart aleck, turning five in a class of 7’s and 8’s!
The realities of this gulf took its toll right from the first day when I sensed the troubling disparity. It seemed like the boys had beards and the girls had breasts. Through this confusion, my teacher’s kind benevolence always seemed to rig out a safe shelter. Still, it was rather intimidating to walk through the halls of a grown-up fraternity.
My coping mechanism resorted to an introspective asylum: I pretended to be of age by being silent. The evidence for my ploy was well documented. My report card read: first term: he is shy; second term: he is too shy; third term: he is very, very shy. It was rather ironic that a boy so rambunctious could pass for a meek persona with very little acting.
One day, birthdays had to be recited. I somehow naively disclosed my true age: 4 years young. There was a concerted gasp from my aged peers while I quickly deciphered the unspoken script of their jeers: “That boy is a cheat! What has he to do with Club First-Grade?” Call it pre-adolescent ethnocentrism, but its apparent sophistication was evident. I was given a tag, which had the stamp of being marginalized as menial.
For someone so lost and seeking for adoption within my new circle, this felt like some great tribulation. That year, I fought back isolation by garnering first honors. The laurel did not mean anything to the pundits, their resolve to put me in a box as a lying scum had been drilled to my coffin, free of charge.
As days went by, I began to realize that lying was to be the generic jargon. My classmates lied, my parents lied, my teacher lied, I lied.
All that I learned that year was the inexplicable truth that all people are liars.
I was to learn later, that what kept men and women in touch within our rather small world is our disposition to lie.
I once asked my dad why he always won his chess games. He nonchalantly revealed: “It’s always about thinking ahead and outsmarting the opponent, by using a gambit.” I asked, “What is a gambit, Dad?” He replied: “Well, it is a move where you simply deceive the other person so you can win.”
A song of ascents.
I call on the LORD in my distress,
and he answers me.
Save me, O LORD, from lying lips
and from deceitful tongues.
What will he do to you,
and what more besides, O deceitful tongue?
He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
with burning coals of the broom tree.
Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech,
that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I lived
among those who hate peace.
I am a man of peace;
but when I speak, they are for war.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
First Corinthians 1:18 NIV
It doesn’t take much honesty to admit the unrelenting pressure of life’s challenges in our lives. Every person seeking to make sense out of life, experiences some form of distress in one way or another. The initial guidepost in our life syllabus prompts us to confront our troubles by seeking to understand what is truly taking place. The contribution of this initial Psalm is to raise our troubled awareness with a sense of urgency to let out a sincere lament of where we are presently situated. A person who seeks the truth through God’s help will mourn an alienated identity: “I call on the LORD in my distress … save me, O LORD, from lying lips and deceitful tongues.”
It is equally important to carefully choose who becomes our primary guide in this endeavor. Our life support ought to come from an impeccable mentor whose rectitude yields nothing more, nothing less but a corresponding wisdom beyond compare. The Psalmist turns to the LORD for such help in his distress.
The primary challenge in any human struggle hinges upon the reality of where we live. The Psalmist decries his location amidst a climate of deceit. Our fallen world rests upon the fragmented scaffoldings of human wisdom. The plethora of religion and philosophy attests to our on-going thirst for meaning and significance. Every attempt to clarify the origin and destiny of our existence seeks to answer our universal distress upon our shared ignorance. While all these are well meaning and kind-intentioned, they somehow reveal their ineptness to redeem us from our despair. The psalmist refers to all these wonderful human perspectives as mere fiction.
Meshech and Kedar serve as metaphors for all the representative genius of humanity that seeks to understand life apart from God’s revelation. Distress is a by-product of a life lived apart from the centrality of the One who created it. To live without God is to live a life devoid of proper connectivity.
It is to Shalom, the peace of God’s evincing presence, that we are called to lean in. The Psalmist recognizes the urgent need for our deepest cry to be knitted into the fabric of God’s unique intervention. When we allow the presence of God to invade our time and space, life takes on a new form. We experience redemption from deception. We veer away from the lies. While consequently ostracized for our defection from our default location, we find our lament transform into a deep prayer of advanced gratitude: “What will he do to you, and what more besides, O deceitful tongue? He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows, with burning coals of the broom tree.”
The beginning step is towards troubleshooting: “Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech, that I live among the tents of Kedar! Too long have I lived among those who hate peace”.
God prescribes that whenever we experience any symptom of distress, we have to check our connectivity. If we are plugged in to a compromised source, we are called to recognize the lie and disconnect with a sense of urgency from the myopic circuitry.
We then turn on to the proper source and reconnect to the solitary source that brings Shalom to all our false directions.
The biblical story discloses a meta-narrative of lost peace. God created humans so that they may be ushered into His presence. The fall towards the lie of self-actualization ushered the dark era of a God-denying existence. But God cannot be denied. As He is the very essence of the life He created, the life of peace had to be restored. The singular way for such redemption will have to be His way. The way back to God’s presence will have to be an accompanied rescue, and the extraction from the fall will have to be done by God, Himself. There is no other way to accomplish this deliverance apart from the incredible action of God to send His only begotten Son, to incarnate into humanity in order to restore peace into our war-torn lives. In Christ’s mission, the cry of the Psalmist finds its fruition. The Son of God determined to take humanity’s damnation upon His Being by owning up to the penalty of our sins, dying on the cross of Golgotha, two thousand years ago. While suffering for our rebellion, his words on the cross “it is finished!” said it all. God’s presence has invaded our woeful situation. With unabridged dignity, he refers to himself as the Prince of Peace. The peace of God is found in the person of Christ. No one experiences true life apart from his abiding guide.
The witness of Scriptures points to the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the singular touchstone of humanity due to this revelatory mission. His person confronts every human destiny. It is impossible not to meet Christ within the intersections of life because he was the only one sent to reclaim our true designation. When he stands at the crossroads, it is either you take him at his word or you push him aside while connecting to another source. His claim to being the only way out from all our troubles reveals the very nature of his integrity: God sent his only Son to accomplish only one mission: to redeem fallen humanity, one person at a time by granting His peace, one decision at a time. This personal salvation was made accessible through the unique unalterable once and for all crucifixion of the Son of God for our sins. This rescue operation found its vindication upon the resurrection of Christ. Humans who will turn to Jesus by faith are thereby granted the full benefits of redemption. No other escape is possible from Meshech and Kedar apart from this exclusive peace-invading way: “I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war.” Only the person of Jesus Christ brings an end to such war by His attested conquest and final victory. There is simply no other way.
There are only two kinds of connectivity in life. You are either connected to Jesus Christ who audaciously claims power over your distress or you are tied in elsewhere. The first thing in our syllabus, if life is to be lived well, according to how we are made, is the call to disconnect from all sources that reflect Meshech and Kedar, devoid of peace and a true understanding of created life.
I lived right through the avenues of lies. At an early age, I was ushered deceitfully into a world alien to Shalom. For eighteen years, I languished, seeking to fill the emptiness inside my soul. Certainly, not by my initiative, I was led to cry for help. It was then that God led me graciously to troubleshoot my distress.
I always had the last word. It seemed not only necessary, but clever to do so in a world that offered divergent conversations. I always had my mental processors hooked up on any and every point at issue. I always flaunted my brazen prowess as interpretive editor of my soul and destiny, ex cathedra.
Renzo was quite like a clone, except that he had more finesse and mafioso. He was one of the senior studs in college. Where there is action, he was there. Where there are girls, he was central. Where there is sin, he’s scuba diving right into it. It was a concession just to be around who seemed like an accomplished dude.
I thought he lost his grip when I spotted him alone reading a bible–he seemed enthralled by some inner calm, just leafing through pages without being bothered by the intrusive campus noise. It was rather disconcerting to observe this mysterious ritual on a daily basis. He turned curiously different–like one celebrity who got caged-in to some addiction.
Detached as he was during those days, there seemed to develop an aura of organic brightness about him–like some kind of disconnection from hurriedness, while projecting calm akin to being exempted from the Quantitative Analysis final exams.
I was at the gym with my friend Joe, when the gossip about Renzo’s metamorphosis snatched our conversation. I was told that I was actually invited to attend his exclusive caucus on Tuesday afternoon, hosted by the Renaissance Man himself. I initially got repulsed with the idea when it was intimated that this was all going to be a talk about God and Religion.
The scrutiny of God was a matter that I have somehow considered open ended. There is simply no way to figure out who had the best handle. I got all A’s in Religious Studies, just because I was a good ape: I just cut and pasted from the theological buffet, whether I believed it or not. And so, it was Renzo’s turn to pipe in his smoke, I guess. It was September 10, 1980 on a Wednesday afternoon when I sat bored waiting for the quasi-social forum to begin and quickly end.
I thought I knew Renzo quite well–certainly not this guy who showed up with his little black book. He began by introducing his purpose for gathering us: to quit guessing about what really transpired in his life. There was a pronounced lack of religious cliché in his talk. He was right on vulnerable about his personal distress and of his silent quest for peace. All he shared was an astonishingly appealing transformative answer facilitated by the person of Jesus Christ.
It happened with a most unusual tenacity. The gnawing sense of emptiness within me began to fill up with every spoken verse of truth. The incongruence of my existence was met by the consonance of his take on how his story is merely an entry within God’s meta-narrative. Deep down, I sensed the unique simplicity of Christ’s gospel as wonderfully true and devoid of any strand of duplicity. Whatever blinds I had pertaining God suddenly gave way to an astonishing awareness of his invitation. Like some sudden shifting of the wind, I came to terms with my need for the Redeemer who was willing to receive my wholesale guilt with an accompanying grant of forgiving grace. The Son of God found my hideous hiding place and ushered me to the one place where I can find peace: within the companionship of His intimate lordship.
At around 2 pm that afternoon, I decided to disconnect from my fictitious life sources, invoking the revelatory person of Jesus Christ to lead me out from my misdirected orientation and lead me into a dynamic recognition of his central presence in my life. For the very first time, I suddenly saw where my journey was meant to be. I did not have to remain in Meshech and Kedar, where definitions of life, are at best magnificent reckonings.
With my newly endowed identity, I did not have to register the last word.
The Word of the LORD had been spoken.