Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace. Psalm 37:37
End - “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” So says the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession. In order to align this with David’s insight, we must recognize that glorifying God and enjoying Him is the equivalent of peace. That is good theology, but life doesn’t always seem like this, does it?
The psalmist introduces the “end of man” with a thought about the wicked. “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green tree.” We have seen the same thing. It seems as if the wicked prosper and prevail. It seems as if they hold sway in the court of worldly appeals. It seems as if they avoid real justice. It seems as if the man who says in his heart, “There really isn’t any god over me,” is the man who wrings from life all that it has to offer. At least it seems that way.
The idea of peace as the end of man is introduced by an acknowledgement of the success of the wicked. That’s important. The Bible does not shy away from the reality of life on this planet. It does not water down monstrous inhumanity or the absence of justice. It merely looks beyond those temporary situations. “For the end of that man” is the Hebrew phrase ki-aharit r’shaeem. You will discover the word aharit in this phrase. That word is quite amazing since it is the word for “future” and well as “end.” Some time ago we learned that the “future” is behind us, unknown but not chaotic. We approach the future by concentrating on our alignment with the proper markers in the past. Now it seems that the future is also our end, and if the psalmist is correct, that end is shalom. Now we can see why it doesn’t matter what success the wicked have in this age. The future of the wicked is extinction (“I sought him but he could not be found”) while the future of the righteous is shalom, a concept that is much, much larger than peace.
The psalmist offers a choice: green-tree-passing-away or upright-awaiting-peace. Both choices are paradoxical, not an unusual situation in biblical thought. What seems like shalom (prosperity, happiness, power) becomes extinction – total loss. What seems like restriction (righteous living, denial of self, cross-bearing) becomes well-being – total fulfillment. The only difference is the focus of the man. One man sees what is in front of him. The other man “sees” what is behind him. Aharit.
As we approach the end of the year, we can look “back” on those days when we thought God abandoned us to the slings and arrows of the wicked. We can wonder why He didn’t serve up justice for us with a silver spoon. We can ask Him to explain our losses, our trials and the grief we must bear. Or we can row toward shalom, knowing that the end is more important than the middle. If you are reading this today with me, you haven’t reached the end – but you are getting closer, aren’t you? Peace is coming. Rejoice!
Topical Index: shalom, aharit, end, wicked, Psalm 37:37