I will admit it: I actually like IKEA products. I’ve seen various memes floating around the Internet, all of which make me laugh, regarding the assembly process for IKEA items. But here’s the thing: have you ever tried to assemble anything from virtually any other store?? Like, have you put something together from Walmart? And let’s not even get to generic products that have been poorly translated.
IKEA instructions are simple. They anticipate what questions you might ask, what dumb things you might try, and they give precise, direct instructions. On top of that, the products themselves were clearly designed to be assembled easily.
I still remember my first IKEA experience after we moved to California. Robin had purchased a giant bookcase. I saw the box and wept. I knew that I would be assembling that, and trying not to lose my salvation in the process. I left a five-hour window open for the process. To my surprise, I opened the box, followed the instructions, and voila!, a bookcase in an hour.
I was thinking of this experience lately, as I’m now going through Psalm 119. If you don’t know, this is notoriously the “longest chapter in the Bible.” It goes on, and on, and on. But not only is it long, it’s somewhat awkward, and a lot redundant. And the thing it’s most redundant about is captured in the title that one version I have provides: “The Glories of God’s Law.” The first eight verses all contain a reference to God’s law: “law of the LORD” (verse 1), “his decrees” (verse 2), “his ways” (verse 3), “your precepts” (verse 4), “your statutes” (verse 5), “your commandments” (verse 6), “your righteous ordinances” (verse 7), and “your statutes” (verse 8).
You don’t have to go far to find someone who hears the phrase “God’s law” as a negative. In fact, many Christians make a contrast between law and grace, the latter being the one clearly preferred. In fact, for many Christians, it’s grace that freed from the law — thus, the law is something to be freed from. That’s especially interesting if you read Psalm 119. This guy has a much different take. He says things like, “My delight is in the law of the LORD.” His delight. Why is this guy saying he delights in the law?
I think the issue is an issue of translation. The word law is not typically associated with positive experiences. Of course, most of the time most people value the law system in a place that protects them and enables them to live the life they want to live. But the law is something to be avoided: you don’t want to have a “run-in with the law.” The Hebrew word that has been translated law does not mean this. In fact, many newer translations have gone in a different direction, precisely to highlight this issue. They use instead the word instruction. The word instruction, I think, gets closer to the idea behind the Hebrew word.
The author of Psalm 119 is delighting in God’s instruction. Does this really make a difference? I think it does. Back to the IKEA example: if you opened a box from IKEA only to discover that those instructions — however frustrating and complicated they could be — were not there, you would panic. You would go back to the store. You might simply look for instructions online. But what you probably wouldn’t do is say, “Eh, oh well. I’ll figure it out as I go.” You might do that. And instead of a bookcase you might end up with a coffee table.
Being lost is not fun. On multiple occasions while we still lived in California, I remember going for a run in the mountains. I learned (the very hard way) that identifying a trail is easier on the way out than it is on the way back. In one instance, a friend and I made it up the mountain and then back down…but on the other side. In another situation, I ended up adding eight miles to what was supposed to be an eight-mile run already. I remember the moment when I came to a clearing, and I looked out to orient myself. I noticed the spot where my car was parked…and I was not even remotely close to it. Also, I didn’t even know where the path I was on was headed. After an hour or more of panic, I finally came to a marker that guided me roughly in the direction of my car. I remember the relief I sensed when I finally had instruction.
This is how the writer of Psalm 119 views God’s instruction. He sees himself as one who is wandering on a trail without any sense of proper direction. Also, he knows that that path might well lead to devastation. Then, graciously, God showed the way — God’s instruction. The author recognizes that this way is not intuitive; it’s not grasped fully by going with what “comes natural.” What comes natural — a life marked by greed and selfishness — is all-consuming. But having been given God’s instruction, the author now chooses to meditate on that so that he can be formed in the way to go.
It’s not an easy path. It’s not one that will bring the things that entice, the things that promise fulfillment. But it’s the way toward a fulfilling, meaningful life.