The previous post argued that contemplation is epistemologically based upon revelation in both its external (e.g. Scripture) and internal (e.g., illumination) senses. This statement includes and inevitably leads to a practical theology of contemplation.
Today’s post will look at two specific examples wherein David contemplates God (that is, “gazes God”) in a personal manner. The first example involves David beholding God’s face (Ps 17), and the second example involves him contemplating God in his mighty works (Ps 77). In both examples, David searches history (whether personal or corporate), seeking God’s face in the present life through searching the past. David teaches us a simple point: beholding God is personal and transformative.
In Psalm 17 David desires to behold God in a personal way. He cries out to God in his distress and asks for justice: “Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry!” (Psalm 17:1). Having established his anguish, weakness, and torments (vv. 2-12), he then emphatically points to the hope that is his, as it is grounded in God’s covenant: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (in v. 15; cf. 24:6; 44:24). These are strong words, indeed.
While only Moses knew God face to face (Deut 34:10; Num 12:8), the author asks for this privilege for himself. As Kidner reflects, David “leaves these earthy preoccupations behind” in the former verses, and he boldly requests the judicial and transformative experience of seeing and knowing God, pointing towards the final promise of seeing God as he is and being like him (1 John 3:2; cf. 2 Cor 3:18). As Calvin notes, while v. 15 ultimately reflects the final resurrection, one must not limit it to that time frame: “but as the saints, when God causes some rays of the knowledge of his love to enter into their hearts . . . David justly calls this peace of joy of the Holy Spirit satisfaction.” While David struggles to sense God, he is assured that one day he will in fact behold him closely. He wants to contemplate God again in his righteousness.
Another example of this personal and transformative contemplation may be found in Psalm 77. Herein the psalmist faces a deep inner struggling and depression in the face of not seeing God in his life. While he believes God is there and exists, it seems as if God does not care (vv. 1-9). The psalmist’s downcast nature is so marked that, he writes, “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints” (v. 3). In his pain, the psalmist considers and contemplates God and his works. He remembers the mighty deeds of God in the exodus, these “wonders of old,” and he ponders and meditates upon these “mighty deeds” (vv. 11-12, cf. 23-15). As he remembers these mighty deeds, he recalls that the holy and great God “redeemed your people” through the exodus from Egypt (v. 15), recalling his Christian readers to consider also the second exodus. Afterwards, the psalmist vividly considers the majestic actions of God in splitting the waters of the sea. As the poet ponders and captures these tremendous events in his mind, he conveys them for the sake of encouragement. These actions show not only the holy and majestic power of God but also his gracious and caring shepherding: “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (v. 20). He thus contemplates God as shepherd, pointing towards Christ as the good shepherd.
The psalmist thus shows that contemplation is a means for the believer to grow and experience God in one’s walk. When one feels awry, one only needs to remember.
We must remember God; much more, we must remember God well, not merely considering him through our selective memory. Here, again, the importance of contemplation may be discerned in its gospel remembrance.
The point of these previous two posts is simple: contemplation is based upon revelation; as it is so based, contemplation seeks to remember God and behold him for the sake of personal knowledge and transformation according to the gospel of Christ. Paul explains this well: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). Paul’s words are a reality for every new covenant believer. As he or she “turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (v. 16-17), namely, through the more complete revelation in Christ (external) and the unveiling of perception by the Spirit (internal).
Contemplation is a key way in which believers experience communion with God in Christ. This post has added to the discussion by explaining two ways in which contemplation may be practiced: by (1) prayerfully desiring to behold God in his righteousness and (2) thoroughly remembering the mighty works of God in the past.
Cf. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 104.
Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 107.
Calvin, Psalms, 1:254.
See also Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 309.
Boice, Psalms, 2: 641-644.