that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.
Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? [why] hidest thou [thyself] in times of trouble*
This is probably the most depressing/distressed opening to a Psalm we’ve had yet (yeah, I know it’ll get worse :-). The tone is more plaintive than accusing, but clearly the Psalmist is not happy with heaven’s response to earthly trouble. So much for the theory that Psalms — and our prayers — must always start by praising God; though that is a good idea, when possible.
Alas, this is not one of those times. In fact, it was not the best of times, it was the worst of times, judging by the ten verses David spends on the wicked’s pride and arrogance as they:
* boasteth of his heart’s desire
* persecute the poor
* blesseth the covetous
* puffeth at… all his enemies
* said in his heart … [I shall] never [be] in adversity
* catch the poor
* will not seek [after God]
* ways are always grievous
* mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud… mischief and vanity
* thy judgments [are]… out of his sight
Even worse, perhaps as justification for all this, the wicked ironically answer the very question David began with:
He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see [it].
Ouch. Normally, I would consider such a litany to be “glorifying Satan”, as we often do when we focus on everything that is wrong with the world. However, David has a far more redemptive purpose in mind, which makes wickedness merely a backdrop against which to paint of God’s powerful deliverance:
Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.
I am reminded again of the Stockdale paradox, and how we must fully confront the brutal facts of our current reality while never “losing faith in the end of the story.” I wonder how much more powerful — and less whiny — today’s church might become if we learned to write Psalms like this: ones that fully explore the depths of depravity in our culture in the authentic context of how God is greater still.
Moreover, David is not merely affirming a belief that God will act, he is explicitly inviting God to act in accordance with His character. I can’t explain how divine action and human initiative are related, but the Bible clearly teaches that they are. Though the wicked deny the potency of both:
Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require [it].
Plus, David makes it clear that God is not apathetic, unaware, or unwilling to act:
Thou hast seen [it]; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite [it] with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.
Rather, the implication is that God is waiting for us to invite his authority into the situation:
Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil [man]: seek out his wickedness [till] thou find none.
It raises the important question of what makes a good king — something Israel was surely wrestling with during the time of David:
The LORD [is] King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.
The somewhat surprising conclusion is that the best king doesn’t merely interfere in every problem he notices, but waits until invoked.
LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
This may sound heartless, but in fact it is the exact opposite. God chief desire is not to make us comfortable children, but help us to grow up into His image (which is at least part of why we call God Father and not Mother :-). As a man, there’s few things more annoying than having someone do for me what I really want and need to do for myself. Conversely, one of the things I need to learn how to do is realize when I’m at the end of my strength, and need to stop and ask for directions!
The bad news — for David and for us — is that wickedness is a real thing, and when there is no strong good King to stop them the wicked will indeed prosper. The good news, though, is that if we call on God He will take action:
To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.
God, forgive me for the dual sins of either ignoring evil, or dwelling too directly upon it. Both responses stem from a lack of awareness of who you are, and how you work. Teach me to Psalm my troubles out to you, that I may fully grasp both the imminent reality of my situation and the transcendent reality of your goodness — and exercise the authority you have given me to bring those two into alignment, by your power and grace. I do all this in the name of Jesus your son, Amen.
About the Title:
Today’s title is in honor of the great Ray Bradbury.