"Two ways to live, and there is no third."

I'm currently reading and enjoying "The God Who is There" by D.A. Carson. The book is reinforcing a lot of things I already know and understand. But I love how a good author (and a Bible scholar in particular) can take something I think I already understand and illuminate it in such a way that my mind grasps it with even greater clarity. There have been several instances of that throughout this book. I have been pondering what I've recently read and thinking that I might share some of it on my blog. But I hadn't gotten around to it. Then, this morning, I saw a quote on Facebook, posted by a friend. And I was reminded of my recent reading again.

I am so thankful for what God has shown me about Himself in the last eight years.

In all the years I was taught (the special revelation of "truth") that God required me to reach literal perfection in the flesh, I wondered why not one single "great person" of the Bible (other than Jesus) was ever declared perfect. Instead, there is example after example of flawed and struggling followers.

I remember wondering at times why the Bible would make such a point of exposing the disobedience and gross sins of "God's people." The Bible even makes sure we are aware of the sins of those who make up the genaeology of Christ. People did not include those details in their genaeologies in those days. And I have finally grasped why the Bible does.

There was only one perfect life acknowledged in the Bible. And He came as a sacrifice for everyone who would put their faith in Him for salvation. I'm amazed today that I could not see the fallacy of what I was taught in the past. I so wish I had opened my mind to Christian authors earlier in my life. Maybe I would have understood the gospel sooner.

In his book, Carson writes about "wisdom literature." Speaking of the first psalm, Carson says:

Two ways to live, and there is no third. There are a lot of psalms like that. They are sometimes called "wisdom psalms." These psalms and wisdom literature sometimes get tied together because in wisdom literature the way of wisdom is cast against the way of folly in a simple and absolute polarity. Wisdom literature regularly offers you a choice between two ways. That is what this psalm does and therefore why it is sometimes called a wisdom psalm.

In the New Testament, the most remarkable wisdom preacher is Jesus. In fact, Jesus is an astonishingly flexible preacher, using many different modes of speech: apocolyptic imagery, one-liners, parables, and much more. But in more than a few of his addresses he uses this basic wisdom polarity: two ways. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), for instance, Jesus offers a number of vignettes that are exactly along this line. He says, in effect, "Picture two people: one builds a house on rock; the other builds a house on sand. The house on sand is not stable. The storms come in, the water rises, the winds lash the place, and it collapses. The house that is strongly built on rock endures" (see Matthew 7:24-27). Note well: there are just two houses. You're rather missing the point if you say, "Jesus, suppose you try hardpan clay." You cannot respond to wisdom preaching in that fashion. In the same context, Jesus says, "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13-14). Once again it misses the point to long for a medium-sized gate. You cannot do that; this is wisdom literature, wisdom preaching. There are only two ways.

Now you see what is scary about wisdom literature in general and Psalm 1 in particular. If we are really honest, we must face the fact that we never quite fit the good way. [My emphasis added.] Oh, there may be times when we delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night. There are other times, quite frankly, when it is a real struggle to delight in the law of the Lord. There are times when the counsel of the ungodly sounds very attractive. If there are only two ways, where does that leave us?

...most of us find ourselves in the middle, sometimes acting this way, sometimes acting that way. This is true of a man like King David himself, who is responsible for some of these psalms. King David can be described as a man after God's own heart, yet he also committed adultery and even arranged for a murder. One wonders what he would have done if he hadn't been a man after God's own heart. If there are only two ways, where does that leave David?

Wisdom literature clarifies the polarity between holiness and unholiness, between righteousness and unrighteousness. But although it clarifies, it cannot save us. If all we had were wisdom literature, it would tend to puff us up when we are doing well and drive us to despair when we are not...

And that last statement was exactly what I had struggled with all my life. I struggled most with the despair of never measuring up to even my own expectations, let alone God's.

This morning I watched a special I had recorded a while back. Barbara Walters interviewed several other famous people who had gone through open heart surgery and recovered. While interviewing David Letterman, she asked if his experience had changed him. David Letterman isn't a person that most of us would think of as "good" in a moral sense after everything that has been exposed about his life. But I saw a humility in him in his response to the question; a comprehension of his inability to meet even his own expectations. He admitted that even when wanting to improve on the person he was and make better choices, he had failed to do so. He didn't make excuses for those choices. I can't remember his exact words without going back and replaying it, but in essence, it sounded as if he was thinking, I wish I could honestly tell you that what I went through changed me and who I am. Unfortunately, it didn't do that the way I wish it could have. I still failed. In contrast to the sense of entitlement to do whatever he wanted with his life, he seemed to genuinely feel disappointed in himself and in his choices. It did not seem that he felt good about himself.

I listened to his comments from the perspective of a believer who sees that recognition of our condition is a starting place. People who already feel good about themselves do not need a Savior. Not everyone fails in the same way Letterman has. But we all fail. And if we really believe we are measuring up to the holiness of God, we are worse off than the person who recognizes how far they fall short. I refer you to the parable describing the Pharisee and the tax collecter (Luke 18:9-14).

This is the quote a friend of mine shared on Facebook this morning:

Only the person who understands that the cross is the center of all human history can understand the Old Testament. Through the lens of the gospel, the Bible truly becomes one book telling one story: the story of sinful man, a holy God, and His plan of salvation through the substitution of Himself for His people. ~ C.J. Mahaney


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