Is This the Day the Lord Has Made?
There’s a scene in the film Miss Congeniality which every year pops up again on social media. The host of the Miss USA pageant asks Cheryl, Miss Rhode Island, to describe her perfect date. “I'd have to say April 25th,” she replies, totally misunderstanding the question. “Because it's not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket!” As much as I laugh at Cheryl for arbitrarily picking one day out of 365 as her favorite, I know I all too often make similar judgments based on my feelings of comfort and ease.
So, when I come across the exhortation, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24), whether I give my amen or not is decided by how I feel life is going at the time. Days when I have felt a vivid sense of God’s power and kindness; days when I have felt like I am where I am supposed to be; days when I have felt loved and comfortable in my own skin––those I have known to be ones which the Lord had made.
But what about this day? This one when months of prayer for healing don’t erase the terminal diagnosis? This one when you come back from work to find your partner’s suitcases by the door? And what about this calendar full of days filled with grief for all that COVID-19 has taken from us––whether our income, our plans big and small, or just the normal rhythm of everyday life, the feeling of familiarity and control that makes us feel safe. On these days, it is harder to see God’s creative and sustaining power. On these days, God feels achingly distant.
When doubts and questions about God pile high, it is easy to long for days earlier in our journey of faith––those times when we found prayer was no problem, we felt like we had all the answers, and we were brimming with zeal to share them. “If I could only be back there,” we think, “then I could make sense of what is happening now. I could find God in the chaos.”
Trying to turn the clocks back and feel as close to God as I once did, I’ve sometimes thought I should pretend that I am crystal-clear of any doubts. If I play the part of the “perfect Christian,” I figure, then I’ll so impress God that he’ll be super keen to draw close again.
But that strategy has some pretty fundamental flaws. First, because no one can have an authentic relationship with a caricature, whenever we cast ourselves in a role to win someone else’s approval or admiration–even God’s–we treat them like an audience. That means we objectify them, caring more about what star rating they give us than about them.
But perhaps even more crucially what I get wrong is this: there is no spiritual hierarchy in God’s Kingdom. No “perfect Christian” and no “bad Christian.” No one is saved because they stayed on their best behavior, and no one is left out because they kept coming up short.
Before God, we all stand as equals: all in need of rescue and all equally unable to dig ourselves out of our own hole.
This was Paul’s point when he told the Galatian church, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). There was no need to ask Gentile converts to be under the Law in the Old Testament, as some members of that church were proclaiming, because that could add nothing to the righteousness that Christ had already won for them and for us. Because we are “in Christ,” who perfectly fulfilled that Law, we don’t need to earn any extra spiritual brownie points. It is, as Jesus declared with his final breath, finished.
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” Paul also told the Galatians (3:27). In other words, when God looks at us, it’s like he sees us through a “Jesus filter” covering all our shame and shortfalls. That means his love is not dependent on anything we do or don’t do. When we feel like God’s view of us has shifted, we might be projecting our own feelings about ourselves onto God, since his love for us does not fluctuate or alter. We might think if we’re feeling ashamed, for example, then God must be judging us, when really it is our inner voice reproaching us.
Ultimately, it is important to remember feelings are not facts.
I don’t think we should ever deny how we are feeling–to ourselves or to God–but nor should we think that our emotions are a reliable window onto reality.
Every single cause of division between you and God was resolved 2,000 ago, and no inkling you have to the contrary can change that. As Paul put it, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39). Your doubt, your regrets, your fears and your frustrations––not one of them can put a rift between you and your Creator.
So, what does this mean for rejoicing in the day the Lord has made? Well, it might be helpful to note that some ancient manuscripts have the verse as “Let us rejoice and be glad in him” rather than “in it,” and I think that helps us understand what the psalmist wants us to do. The grounds for our joy are not in the circumstances of a particular time but in the unchanging, unchangeable love of God, his mercy, and our redemption.
We are, of course, right to thank God for every moment of joy that a day brings, since each one is a sign of his grace. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights,” James wrote in his epistle (1:17). But in the very same sentence, James added that with God “there is no variation or shadow due to change.” In other words, the ups and downs we experience, the highs followed by the lows, do not point to any flip-flopping or fickleness in God. He is still Love from beginning to end. The rescue has already come, and it can never be revoked. And for that, you can rejoice–– in this day and all the rest.