Psalm 31 What, Ashamed?

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Questions: What is our God? Whom do we trust to take away our shame?

“Read More” to pursue answers in the Psalms.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Psalms 31:1-24

In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.

I, probably like most moderns, have a difficult time connecting “trust” with “shame.” We can (barely) understand shame in the context of actions we performed, or perhaps evil things done to us. But how is that related to trust?

My working hypothesis — based, oddly enough, on an old Lone Ranger episode — is that we expiate shame by submitting to something honorable. Ebenezer Scrooge submitting to Christmas, Darth Vader submitting to the love of his son — all these villains become heroes by submitting to what is greater rather than lesser (money, power).

In this view, David isn’t just seeking God’s deliverance as a way to avoid the physical shame of failure before his enemies (though that’s obviously important). Rather, he is seeking God Himself as the source of everything we need to avoid shame:

Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me. For thou [art] my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me. Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou [art] my strength.

For David, I suspect, the greatest shame comes from trusting in something foolish and weak. In the ancient world, lacking our mechanical slaves and technological autonomy, I suspect they had a far deeper appreciation of the nature and importance of human authority. Whom to trust — when to trust yourself — was quite literally a matter of life and death. Which is why, prefiguring Jesus, David is not ashamed to cry out:

Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.

It also explains his disgust with chose who choose to trust in lesser things:

I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the LORD.

In a Christian (or perhaps post-Christian) culture, it is easy to forget the damage wrought by trusting in flattering lies (at least our own :-). And in a world where people have the option to submit to Christ, we are commanded to love the sinner, and just hate the sin. But David’s hate is a holy hatred, and he apparently lacks such subtle distinctions, since he’s fighting for his life:

…Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, [yea], my soul and my belly. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed

And even worse than the physical pain is the social isolation:

I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me. I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel. For I have heard the slander of many: fear [was] on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.

Ouch. No wonder his preoccupation with shame. In fact, it makes me wonder if one of the greatest tragedies of modern life is that in trying to deny the existence of shame, we’ve forgotten how to cope with it — much less cure it. Hence the explosion of suicide, addictions, divorce, and polarization (even among Christians).

Fortunately, the cure is still at hand, for those who have eyes to see:

But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou [art] my
God.

That pretty much says it all. We protestants talk a lot about how Christ takes away our guilt, but very little about our shame. Which is tragic, for Christ heals not just the internal psychology of shame, but also the external structures of shame:

My times [are] in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me. Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies’ sake.

For in a just world — one that manifests the image of Christ — it is only the wicked who need be ashamed:

Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, [and] let them be silent in the grave. Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.

Not that we should dwell on their suffering, but rather on the happiness laid up for us:

[Oh] how great [is] thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; [which] thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men! Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.

and most of all, on God Himself:

Blessed [be] the LORD: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness in a strong
city.

even when it seems foolish:

For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.

as David takes pains to remind us:

O love the LORD, all ye his saints: [for] the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer. Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.

Hope is a dangerous thing to commend to someone. But David has earned the right. Have we?

Prayer

God, I confess that I have too often been a slave to my shames, seeking to placate it by serving lesser gods of addiction, whether compulsiveness or intellectualism. I thank you for all the ways you’ve delivered me during my three years here in Elk Grove, but I know there’s still a long way to go. Father, have mercy on me. Teach me to trust in you, and to love you more than all the petty things of this world. Help me to end my shame in you, for you alone are strong enough to bear it on my behalf. Free me to be a fountain of grace to those still lost in shame. I ask all this in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is a (weak) play on the phrase “What a shame!”

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