The Long Road Home
Anchor Texts: Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or, whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me and thy right hand shall hold me. Psalm 139:7-10.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments. Psalm 119:176
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. Psalm 119:9
My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word Psalm 119: 28.
Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. I have remembered thy name, O Lord in the night and have kept thy law. This I had because I kept thy precepts. Psalm 119:54, 55.
Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant. Psalm 119:67, 71, 76
Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction Psalm 119:92
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105
The entrance of thy word giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple. Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name. Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me. Psalm 119:130,132,133
How does one come to recognize his own prodigal status, and subsequently become infused with an irresistible desire to return home? What if he has never known home, does he still have a place called home? Several facts are incontestable. First, it is God that plants the yearning (God gives the will…Phil 2:13)), next, God kindles the flame (…fire shut up in my bones… Jer. 20; 9), and finally, God enables the journey (God gives the way…Phil. 2:13). For persons of a certain age, defined less by chronological time than by the reality of having taken a particular road, this title, with its mention of home, stirs the most intense of emotions. Sorrow and loss, the pain of terrible missteps along roads that should not have been taken; so much pain delivered and received ,so many regrets to mark a journey that one would sooner forget but more desirable still, escape. But for that man then and this wanderer now, the most powerful stir is the dawn of hope. The rapid downwards slide or the slow painful drift into meaninglessness is arrested, a proactive navigator takes the control room of his life and a new course is charted.
As the growing realization of the magnitude of the change, and the unmistakable sense of direction and meaning registers, this timeless traveler makes the magnificent rhetorical outburst noted above but bears repeating, if only for the sheer sublimity of it.
“Whither shall I go from thy spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
How can I escape (and not that I would want to anyway!) this amazing, reconciling, restorative grace? The grateful prodigal is of course expressing a most profound joy that mercifully, the snare of love was present and he was unable to escape. His gratitude is unassailably genuine, grounded as it is in the bedrock of battered expectations, the palpable darkness of a driftwood life and the permanence of experiential loss. The sheer heights and depths of the Psalmist’s emotional as well cognitive awakenings remain undiminished to this day.
There are seven distinct elements in this cataclysmic era of the prodigal’s life, all of which interact almost seamlessly to save his life.
• Recognition of prodigal behavior. This is clearly expressed by the Psalmist in chapter 119: 176. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant for I do not forget thy commandments.
• The weight of transgression. Again, the Psalmists own words: “Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction” 119:92. “Order my steps in thy word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” 119:133.
• The solution to the crisis. The dawn of realization arrives carrying both a stark assessment and mercifully, a complete answer; “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word”.
• The sometimes sharp edges of redemptive love. There is no sugar-coating, the work of grace is not always pain-free: “Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I have kept thy word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Let I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort according to thy word unto thy servant”. 119:67, 71, 75, 76.
• The guiding beacons and retaining walls of a forever-vigilant love. The Psalmist here pays tribute to God for the ever-present divine guardrails that kept him from a fatal plunge into the abyss of eternal loss. “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. I have remembered thy name, O Lord, in the night, and have kept thy law. This I had because I kept thy precepts. Thy word is a light unto my feet and a light unto my path”.119: 54-56,105.
• The life vests of love. The Psalmist goes to heart of the matter; he looks backwards from where he has come for he must understand just how close to disaster he has come, but also because he understands that he can never again tread those paths of perdition. ‘Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction. I will never forget thy precepts, for with them thou hast quickened me. Therefore, I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold. Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way”. 119:92,93,127,128.
• The recognition of a new and unmistakable day. The harrowing journey through the night of life’s day is coming to an end, and though the psalmist is under no illusions about the future, he can see the sunrise and he will not be denied; he will also not remain silent. ‘The entrance of thy word giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth and panted; for I longed for thy commandments. Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name. Let thine hand help me for I have chosen thy precepts. I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord, thy law is my delight. Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me. 119:130-132;173-175