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Psalm 119:17-24


Be good to your servant while I live, that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes, that I may see wonderful things in your law.
I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me.
My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.
You rebuke the arrogant, who are accursed, those who stray from your commands.
Remove from me their scorn and contempt, for I keep your statutes.
The rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees.
Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.

A number of years ago, when I was in seminary, I went through what many would call a crisis of faith. At the time, I didn't realize it was a crisis of faith. I thought it was a rejection of faith. In my studies at seminary, I was doing a deep exploration of 19th & 20th century Protestant Liberalism. For that I was reading Schleiermacher (d. 1834, he prioritized religious experience over doctrine), von Harnack (d. 1930, he tried to distinguish between the historical Jesus and “later” theological constructions of him – as well, he tried to demythologize Christian doctrine), Rauschenbusch (d. 1918, a leading figure in the social gospel movement), and Tillich (d. 1965, an existentialist and universalist).

These men, through their writings, were my counselors. And so with them I began to slip towards rejecting the inspiration of Scripture; I began to challenge the deity of Christ; I began to wonder about the reality of transcendent God at all. Those modern challenges to Christianity opened the door for what was the more postmodern challenges to Christianity: the idea of relativism, a rejection of the exclusivity of Christ, and a rejection of the necessity of the Church.

Looking back, God in his grace provided two means of saving my faith: First, he led me to realized that I had not been reading the scriptures devotionally. When I picked up all those Protestant liberal writings, I put down the Bible. I had nothing to test my thoughts and experiences against. Second, God gave me a community of friends and fellow seminary students (and professors) who supported me and challenged me and encouraged me, giving me the space to ask hard questions but also being able and willing to challenge and refute them.

In todays increasingly post-Christian world, we call these stories of deconstruction. They are common and you can find them all over Instagram and TikTok; often internet celebrities share their stories of deconstruction and advocate for other doing the same to break free from the bonds and burdens of an “imposed religion.” These influencers along with other online communities become one’s counselors for the journey of deconstruction.

One of the common denominators in these stories is an experience of faith in isolation from a community of believers. Instead of receiving counsel from people who shared the faith, we look for counsel in other places. Here in Psalm 119, the Psalmist understands himself to be in in a foreign place; to be alone. He says he is “a stranger on earth.” (vs. 19). The Hebrew word translated “stranger” by the NIV means also, foreigner or sojourner; sometimes it is translated, “resident alien.” The point is, he is feeling like he is lost, not at home, wandering, in need of something to ground him – so he longs for the word of God to not be hidden from him.

The word of God is wonderful to Him. The people around him, who slander him and who would cause him to stray from God's commands, he asks to be rebuked; and for him to remain obedient. In the face of his own challenges he delights in God's word and God's word functions as his counselor; guiding him into all truth.

In my own crisis of faith I am grateful for good and wise counselors – the chiefmost of which is God’s own word. I had to be captivated again with the beauty, with the “wonderful things,” of God's word. I am grateful for friends and professors who encouraged me in that direction. Coming out of that season, I am grateful for the writings of Søren Kierkegaard (d.1855), who opened my eyes again to the mysteries & beauty of faith; I am grateful for counselors like Gresham Machen (d. 1937), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (d. 1945), and Reinhold Niebuhr (d. 1971) and so many others who help me reconstruct my faith coming out of that season by responding directly to the challenges of Protestant Liberalism.

But the main reason all of these could serve as wise counselors for me was their commitment to God’s word as God’s word – spoken and infallible for us. This is the same for the Psalmist of Psalm 119; may it be also for you in the questions of faith, be them of deconstruction or (more importantly) of reconstruction. I hope you are surrounded by a community of people who will journey with you in this foreign land of faith in a post-Christian world.

Lord God, whatever my questions may be, help me to bring them to your word as my counselor. Open my eyes and heart to the beauty of your word to me. Help me to see Jesus on the pages of the Bible and draw me into closer relationship with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen!