Monday, December 02, 2013

Close the path to misery

The Advent hymn "Veni Emmanuel" contains the following lines:

"Make safe the way that leads on high,/ and close the path to misery."

The hymn is very familiar, and it's easy to blow right past those lines, but I was much struck by them in church yesterday. What do they mean? Admittedly, they are a bit obscure. Taken literally, they state a request that we really don't intend to make, presumably. That is to say, we presumably don't actually believe that God will or should override the free will of man so that man cannot go to hell, so that the way to misery is literally closed. That the path to misery is open to man's choice is one of the terrible mysteries of Christianity.

What I will give here, then, is more a personal application of the words than an actual guess as to what the author intended when he wrote them. There are many Christians who genuinely have good will, who want to serve God, but who are unsure what they ought to be doing at any given time. They may face difficult decisions and conflicting loyalties and priorities, not to mention conflicting advice from human counselors. One can make this request to God as a request for guidance: "Please, Lord, as I'm seeking your will, don't let me make any really fatal mistakes for myself or for others. Close the path to misery." The Psalmist says, "Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path." And elsewhere, "Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth. Unite my heart to fear thy name." This is a prayer we need to be praying both practically and spiritually. Practically, for all those daily decisions and life decisions, that they would be wise. Spiritually, when we are wondering whether to be stern or soft, whether our motives are wrong, whether we are encouraging in ourselves or in others the wrong spirit or attitude. In all these things, we can cry out to God to make safe the right way and close the wrong way.

This is at least one good application that one can make of the hymn lyrics, and I present it to my readers for what value it may have for them. And a blessed Advent season to you.


Kristor said...

Forgive us our trespasses ... And lead us not into temptation ...

Lydia McGrew said...

Excellent parallel.