May 17, 2009
“O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.”
Botox. is not just for erasing age lines anymore. Now Botox is for planting a smile on your face permanently. Yes, the primary cosmetic use of Botox is still by people who want to look younger, but it has also become the treatment of choice for a whole host of people who want to appear serene or happy no matter what they may actually be feeling. In the ruthless marketplace of capitalism, letting your true emotions show can mean losing a sale or coming out on the short end of a negotiation. Frown and you miss a job opportunity. Scowl when you are making a presentation before a jury and they might find your client guilty. So a growing number of lawyers, bankers, stockbrokers, and salespeople are having Botox shots to shape their faces into poses of tranquility. With just a few injections, they are wiping away frowns, scowls, and the appearance of weariness, and replacing them with effortless smiles. Those perpetually happy faces beam at arrogant bosses, annoying underlings, and obstinate clients. They smile confidently at resistant customers, skeptical juries, and everybody else, even if the person behind the face is really feeling something quite different.
Apparently it works. After losing his job as an investment banker, 39-year-old Christopher Marre went to interview after interview without landing another position. Finally, an executive recruiter told him the problem was not his résumé; it was his face. The deep lines in his forehead made him look angry, the recruiter said. So Marre took himself off to a plastic surgeon for Botox injections, and, with his new friendly face firmly in place, he landed a new job two weeks later.
Thus, Botox gives a whole new meaning to the song “Put on a Happy Face.” Whatever you may be feeling, you will look like you are feeling on top of the world, happy as a lark, or, to use the old southern saying, happy as a pig in slop.
The problem, of course, is that the appearance of joy is not the same thing as joy.
Yet it is no secret that when people smile at us, we feel better. About a week ago, the nursing home called me and said they had sent my mother to the ER at Piedmont. So I jumped in the car and went over there. Initially, I just wanted to find out which examining room she was in, but only one receptionist was on duty and a long line of people were waiting to talk to her. So I stood in line for awhile, not very patiently I admit. She was handling every complaint. Every person that came through the door, every sick person, or injured person, or family member went through her—which did not strike me as very efficient but that is the way it was. Well I stood in line a long time and when I got to the head of the line I was feeling like complaining, but this young receptionist looked so weary and so frustrated that I felt sorry for her. I swallowed my complaints and said something like, “You are very busy today.” She replied, “Too busy.” And I said, “Well God still loves you,” which is not very profound, I know, but she smiled a little anyway, and then I added, “Even if it does not seem like it.” She kind of laughed at that, and I smiled in return. Now she might have just been humoring me. I do not know about that. But I felt better when she smiled, when she laughed.
Someone has turned this feel-good aspect of smiles into a blog site on the Web. SmileMyDay.com is filled with engaging pictures of people flashing great smiles. Some of the best are the babies, but the site has people of many other ages as well, and it makes you smile when you visit the site. The creator of SmileMyDay.com is unidentified, but he/she explains the motivation for the site.
“ I am a happy blogger and I always smile. I also love to see other people’s happy smiles on their faces. Every time I see someone smile, he makes me smile, too. It’s magic. When I felt sad or upset, I try to smile to forget what was happening to me. A happy smile gives me energy and motivates me to overcome the sadness. Seeing smiles on other people’s faces makes me happier. The happy smiles motivate me to face my challenges and find a way to resolve the difficulties ... I want to make this blog a place to give people a bright future and have a happier life.”
That sounds good to me. Along those same lines, Mother Teresa said, “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” But a botox smile is not that all. It is just facial structure. It is just business technique. Real smiles are a response to real joy.
And this brings us to Psalm 98. It begins, “O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things,” and it continues in tones of joy all the way through. The joy of the psalmist is so overflowing that he is not content to rejoice in the LORD by himself; he asks his audience to join him in the party. Even then, he is not content. He wants all creation to join in, saying in verses 8-9: “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy.”
But why is the psalmist so happy? Because God is a living presence in his life. In v3, the psalmist speaks of God's “Steadfast love and faithfulness.” This is the kind of God we have. Not some remote, passive deity, but a God who loves us and cares for us and believes in us.
In V1 the Psalmist says God has done “marvelous things” and the implication is that God will continue to do marvelous things now and forever. Although the psalmist does not specify what marvelous things he is referring to, we can pretty well guess. Again and again in the Old Testament, writers point back to the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt as a mighty work of deliverance, and they attribute that deliverance not to the power of Moses or the weakness of Pharaoh, but to God. Since God did that in the past, nothing is impossible in the future.
So let us make some personal application here.
If you believe God has done great things for you, you should be an optimist. If you know that God once intervened in the course of history for your benefit, you have to believe that God can do it again. And more than that, if you believe God is in charge and will bring all things to the right conclusion at the end, you have every reason for a genuine smile. You do not need a botox smile. You can have the real thing.
Actually, Psalm 98 never uses the word “smile”; it says, “sing to the LORD a new song,” but, of course, that is essentially the same thought, and, in case we do not quite get it, the psalmist says it even plainer in verse 4: “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.”
If you are interested in hymns and songs, one of our greatest hymns, “Joy to the World,” was written by Isaac Watts in 1719, and it is based on this psalm.. We join all creation in singing a song of joyful praise to the Lord for the Lord’s saving and ruling work among us.
John Piper says,
“The reason we sing is because there are depths and heights and intensities and kinds of emotion that will not be satisfactorily expressed by mere prosaic forms, or even poetic readings. There are realities that demand to break out of prose into poetry and some demand that poetry be stretched into song.
So music and singing are necessary to Christian faith and worship for the simple reason that the realities of God and Christ, creation and salvation, heaven and hell are so great that when they are known truly and felt duly, they demand more than discussion and analysis and description; they demand poetry and song and music. Singing is the Christian’s way of saying: God is so great that thinking will not suffice, there must be deep feeling; and talking will not suffice, there must be singing.” [John Piper, “Singing and making melody to the Lord,” December 28, 1997, desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/1997/1023_Singing_And_Making_Melody_To_The_Lord/.]
The Psalmist is so overjoyed by the presence of the Lord that he seems to almost want to compel us to rejoice and sing. In v4 he says, “Break forth into joyous song and sing praises.” And as we read on in verses 5 and 6:
“Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.”
But here is the surprising thing: This psalm is included in a section of the book of Psalms that one commentator says was “shaped in part to respond to the crisis of exile and its aftermath.” Psalms 90-106 make up what scholars call Book IV of the book of Psalms. Many scholars think that these Psalms were written after the Exile, after the destruction of Israel and Jerusalem. In other words, Psalm 98 was not written for a celebration of a happy event; it was written for people who were in the midst of hard times.
Well, how can that be? When we are in difficulty we don’t feel much like celebrating, like smiling to the Lord. However, think of it like this. Imagine that you are the parent of a five-year old girl whom you love with your whole heart, but the child takes sick and is so ill that you are afraid she is not going to survive. Then the doctor tells you of a simple operation that will correct the problem. The girl will be fine. You are filled with relief, incredible joy. The problem is, the child, learning she must have an operation, is scared to death and frightened of the surgeon. Even though you know she will be well, your reassurance does not help. She just does not understand. Acting joyful in her presence only makes her think you are not taking her seriously and that you don’t care. So you have to meet her where she is, show appropriate sympathy, and maintain a somber front. But when you are not in the room with her, you have a smile on your face, for you know all will be well.
The author of Psalm 98 is something like the parent in that scenario. He is writing to people weighed down with troubles, but he knows that in the long run, everything will be all right. That is the final message of the Bible. Revelation 21,
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,*
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away’ ” (3-4).
So, did you hear that? Sin and death are not going to win. Satan is not going to win. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, and God will dwell there with us, and all the problems and difficulties and obstructions and troubles, all the turmoil and confusion and chaos, of this world will pass away.
“Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”
This is what God knows. God knows that everything is going to work out, but God is in the position of a parent. He takes our fears and worries seriously, but ever so often, he has to go outside and laugh, because he knows what he knows. G.K. Chesterton wrote something similar a hundred years ago, that although Jesus let his grief, sadness and anger show on his face, he had to restrain himself from smiling because he knew Christianity’s great secret — that the promise of the kingdom of heaven, the promise that Revelation speaks of, the promise of deliverance, is all true. In order to meet us where we were, Jesus had to restrain himself from breaking out in joy. Or as Chesterton put it, “There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when he walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was his mirth.” God laughs at our situation, because God knows the Kingdom is coming and it is going to be wonderful. That is the secret. You now know the secret and it should put a huge real smile on your face. Amen.
Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. New York: Images Book, 1990; Reprint of 1908 book from Dodd, Mead & Co.
Connelly, Michael. The Black Ice. New York: Warner Books, 1993.
Hwang, Suein L. “Some Type A staffers dress for success with a shot of Botox.” The Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2002, B1.
Smile My Day. smilemyday.com/about/.
The New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. IV.Nashville: Abingdon, 1996, 1072.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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