The writers of the Psalms certainly anticipated the gospel. However, I have grown increasingly aware that their perspectives on a relationship with God reveal distinct differences from ours.
In Psalm 17:15,the Psalmist declared that his contentment in life did not come from wealth but in knowing that all was well with his soul and God. I agree; but how does one know that things are well; how do we evaluate this? By our feelings of contentment?
In Psalm 18:19, a buoyant David gave thanks to God for victory over his enemies by saying, “He led me to a place of safety, for he delights in me.” How did he know that God delighted in him? In the next verse he said, “The Lord rewarded me for doing right, and being pure. For I have followed his commands and have not sinned by turning back from following him.” Is our righteousness the basis of God’s delight?
I don’t know about you but I have a hard time thinking that God delights in me. I also struggle with evaluating my relationship to him on the basis of how I feel or how much he has seemed to bless me. I am not being cynical or wormy here; just being honest about my own sinful nature and the fickleness of my feelings.
I think that this is where our reading of the Psalms (the whole Old Testament) needs to be informed by the gospel. Contentment and confidence in my relationship with God comes only when I realize that Christ died for me and that I am joined to him by faith (in Christ). Because God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for me, I have the confidence of knowing that I belong to him and that he will care for me unsparingly (Romans 8:32). Again, any confidence that I have is centered on Christ’s work for me and that I am in him by faith.
Martin Luther’s quest for certainty in his relationship with God was not based upon his performance or his feelings. In fact, the more he “performed” the more he became aware of his own sinfulness and hypocrisy, and the more he was terrified of God’s righteous judgment. He kept vigils, prayed, fasted, beat himself with whips, nearly froze to death in the unheated chambers of the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits where he lived as a monk. His six-hour confessionals only convinced him that even being sorry could be self-centered. Through the reading of Scripture he became convinced that his only certainty of God’s love for him came through faith in Christ work for him on the cross.
In summary, the Psalmist’s confidence of being a delight to God seems to rest on his sincerity and obedience. My confidence and certainty of God’s love for me rests upon the work of Christ on the cross. Thus when I wonder how God views me, gospel-thinking goes: I am in Christ and since God delights in his Son, therefore, God delights in me. I will hang onto this even when my own heart condemns me for God’s promises are greater than the opinions of my heart.