How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Reflection – We take a break from the Synod blogging for the Monday Psalter. This psalm is, oddly perhaps, one of my favorites. It is one of the psalms that made me fall in love with the Book of Psalms in the first place, many years ago.
This psalm brings out something that is utterly essential to the whole Old Testament sense of religion and worship, something that is met and taken up into Christian faith in a beautiful way. At the same time, it is an element of our religion that we are constantly in danger of losing sight of or even denying.
It is this: our whole religion, our faith, is a matter of the real God coming to the real human person, the real human being—the real you—in the presence of the real God, and a real encounter really happening. This is the whole of our faith, in a certain sense—all the other stuff (morality, sacrament, Church) is really what we bring and what we learn, who this real God really is, and what happens to the real us when He really comes to us in the final and definitive way in Jesus Christ.
When we read the Old Testament, which in our Christian understanding is the incomplete and non-definitive beginnings of this process, we see this real encounter expressed in a wide variety of ways. Psalm 13 is a perfect example. We see in this psalm some real human being engaging in a very real, very human, very common activity.
Namely, he is complaining. ‘How long, O Lord?’ I love the repetition of it, the urgent and somewhat querulous demand to know just how much longer do we have to put up with this #$%@. So human, so very, very human. In the spiritual direction I do, which makes up a significant portion of my waking hours these days, this is one of the most common and poignant questions people have. ‘How much longer do I have to suffer like this?’ Such a basic human question.
And it never gets ‘answered’, exactly, in this psalm. It just hangs there. So much of the Old Testament is like that. Messy human situations, messy human beings doing messy human things… and it just hangs there. Over and over, the Old Testament leaves things hanging without a definitive resolution—perhaps so much of our human conundrum is ‘just left hanging’ because God will only really resolve it when He is left hanging with us.
At any rate, this psalm is just complaint, complaint, complaint—kvetching, if you will, from vv 1-4. And then… something happens. The last two verses it all switches around and the psalmist bursts out in a hymn of confident, trusting praise and thanksgiving.
What happened? There is no indication of any event, any change in circumstance exactly (although, mind you, the specifics of this guy’s problem are left pretty vague anyway). Why did he turn on a dime from kvetching to praise, from complaint to trust, from anguished lament to Thanksgiving?
God happened, that’s what. The real God entered the picture of this real man and his real problems, which he (wise man!) has seen fit to bring before the Lord. I see that in spiritual direction a lot, too. ‘How long, how long, how long…’ and then all of a sudden, in a flash of insight, ‘It’s OK – I just have to trust God!’
God happens, and everything changes. God happens, and our complaints, at least for a moment, fall away. God happens, and we give thanks. This is the constant pattern and rhythm of life, as the real you and the real me come into the presence of the real God, and it is a pattern and rhythm that grows in intensity and beauty as life goes on, until we at last enter the Real Presence of God not in time but in eternity, and sing and rejoice in that Presence forever.