Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Sweaty, Messy Grappling

I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
I was mute and silent; I held my peace to no avail,
 and my distress grew worse.

My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue: “O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!

Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!

Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!
“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?  My hope is in you.
Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool!

I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it.
Remove your stroke from me; I am spent by the hostility of your hand.
When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin,
you consume like a moth what is dear to him;
surely all mankind is a mere breath!

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears!
For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers.
Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.
Psalm 39

Reflection – I am doing the next instalment of the ‘Monday Psalter’ today, as I will have other fish to fry on Monday, blog wise.

I love this psalm. It is such a perfect poetic expression of a certain mood or experience most of us have some of the time, and some people have much of the time. We all at times touch the reality of the world gone very wrong, the very real and excruciatingly painful injustices, the calamitous follies, the mind boggling stupidities and just plain meanness of humanity broken by original sin and its sad fruits.

One of the perils of the internet age is that, while in the past we were mostly limited to the injustices, follies, stupidities, and meanness of our immediate neighbours, we can now if we choose spend every waking hour seeking fresh examples of these from the four corners of the globe to outrage ourselves with. Whether that is a wise and mentally healthy course of action is debatable, to say the least, and yet quite a few people choose to do just that.

Meanwhile, Psalm 39 enters into this experience of human folly and wickedness at a very deep level, I would say. I do love how the bible in general, and the psalms in particular, do not shy away from the messiness and incompleteness of our human experience of reality. The psalmist really is at a loss here, and there is no tidy resolution to his dilemma.

There is evil, wickedness. At first he says ‘I will be silent’. Then he can’t quite manage it, and so bursts into hot and fiery speech. And then he lapses again into silence, and finally is brought down to prayer, a humble and broken kind of prayer at that. He just doesn’t know how to make sense of the situation (it is just right, by the way, that we are never told in these psalms just what the situation is—it could be anything).

It is all so very human, so very real. And in the midst of all this sweaty, messy, confused grappling with the problem of evil, there is this nugget of wisdom, hard won and barely held to. ‘Lord make me know my end, and what is the measure of my days.’

Life is short; eternity is long, very long. God has decreed it such that in this world we do not have the perfect justice and perfect balancing of the books that (being made in his image, He the Just Judge) our hearts cry out for. He has his own reasons for this, and we are continually having to battle our way to trusting Him in this matter in this life.

But in a Christian praying of this psalm we do come to embrace the hope and promise of heaven offered to us by Christ, where all things will be made as they should be. And in a deeper yet Christian praying of this psalm, we come to know that our whole movement in this world regarding evil and injustice is not to lash out with rage and heat and violence, but to meet it with love, patience, forebearance, and forgiveness. As did Jesus Christ, whose disciples we say we are.

In this Age of Outrage in which we live, where everyone is perpetually getting offended and where it seems many positively search around every day looking for things to get mad about, Psalm 39 is a good psalm to pray. We need to go deeper in all these matters; this psalm, especially when prayed in the light of our whole Christian faith, helps us to do just that.

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