Peterson starts out every chapter after the first one with the Psalm of Ascent that serves as the theme or framework for the chapter. Thus, chapter two begins with Psalm 120, which I’ll reproduce here, using Peterson’s own Message paraphrase:
A Pilgrim Song
120 1-2 I’m in trouble. I cry to God,
desperate for an answer:
“Deliver me from the liars, God!
They smile so sweetly but lie through their teeth.”
3-4 Do you know what’s next, can you see what’s coming,
all you barefaced liars?
Pointed arrows and burning coals
will be your reward.
5-7 I’m doomed to live in Meshech,
cursed with a home in Kedar,
My whole life lived camping
among quarreling neighbors.
I’m all for peace, but the minute
I tell them so, they go to war!
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
Peterson begins this chapter by addressing the issue of grace that I raised in my thoughts on chapter one of the book. His second paragraph of chapter two ends with this: “A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.” Psalm 120 is the cattle prod–the howl of dissatisfaction which, “coupled with a longing for peace and truth, can set us on a pilgrim path of wholeness in God.” I love that: “a pilgrim path of wholeness in God.”
Peterson hits the issue head on. The reason we’re in such a mess, the reason why “the world is restless, always spoiling for war,” is this:
We have been told the lie ever since we can remember: human beings are basically nice and good. Everyone is born equal and innocent and self-sufficient. The world is a pleasant, harmless place. We are born free. If we are in chains now, it is someone’s fault, and we can correct it with just a little more intelligence or effort or time.A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, chapter 2
He goes on to say that the lies we are told about who we are, about what we need, about the nature of life and of our own souls are “impeccably factual” with “no distortions or falsified data.” What makes them untrue is the fact that “they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God.” This certainly rings true in the world I live in. We forget where we come from and where we’re going.
It is the utterance of God’s name (not once but twice) in the Psalm that acts as “a lightning flash illuminating [. . .] a crossroads.” This crossroads represented by Psalm 120 is “the turning point marking the transition from a dreamy nostalgia for a better life to a rugged pilgrimage of discipleship in faith, from complaining about how bad things are to pursuing all things good.” I think the problem is, at least from where I sit, what is “good” has been redefined.
If this is true, the remedy is the first step: repentance. Peterson defines repentance like this:
Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking that you had, or could get, the strength, education and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world. And it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, chapter 2
I’ve always thought of repentance as changing one’s mind about __________ and agreeing with God about the subject. This seems to match Peterson’s definition.
Peterson explains the two geographic allusions in the psalm–Meshech and Kedar–by bringing them up to the present: “I live in the midst of hoodlums and wild savages; this world is not my home and I want out.” He then brings in the notion from Isaiah 19 that two other geographic and cultural entities at odds with each other, Egypt and Assyria, can one day quit warring and start worshiping together. The key to this change is repentance. These two worldly kingdoms, Egypt and Assyria, are representative of “all the wisdom and strength in the ancient world.” Israel rejected them both, “finding a path to God through the labyrinth of sin.” This rejection (which we might see as repentance) did not and does not result in the instantaneous solving of all problems. Instead, they (and we) are now “going someplace [. . .] going to God.”
Circling back around to the framework of the Psalms of Ascent which the Israelites would sing while making their thrice-yearly pilgimages to Jerusalem, Peterson says that after choosing God’s way over the ways Egypt and Assyria, “The truth of God explained their lives, the grace of God fulfilled their lives, the love of God blessed their lives.” Such is our story, too, when we repent and turn to God. Repentance is “the first word in Christian immigration.”
- Thoughts on A Long Obedience: Chapter One: “Discipleship”
- Thoughts on a Long Obedience: Chapter Two: “Repentance”