Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.
I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me,
he will put to shame those who trample on me.
God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.
I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey;
their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth.
They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my path, but they have fallen into it themselves.
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody.
Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn.
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens;
your faithfulness extends to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
Let your glory be over all the earth.
Reflection – We have been trodding slowly through the ‘gloomy 50s’ in the book of psalms—an unbroken succession of psalms lamenting evil in the world and the sufferings of the psalmist in the face of that evil. I am somewhat amused that, as hard as I have found it to write about these psalms week after week, they have proved to be very popular posts, three of them currently being among the ‘top ten’ posts of the last month. I guess ‘gloom sells’ is the take away lesson here.
Well, the gloom is starting to lift and the light is dawning – the psalmist here is still afflicted, still besieged by enemies. But… ‘awake my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn.’ Something is changing; deliverance is coming.
The destroying storms come, and the destroying storms pass by. There are all sorts of dangers about—lions, spears, arrows, sharp swords, pits—but somehow the psalmist is unharmed. Terrible things happening around him, but not in him, where the song of praise to God never ceases.
Well, this takes us somewhere. Because of course we all know that in the so-called ‘real world’ (whatever that means, exactly) sometimes bad guys do find the mark, right? I mean… well, I guess I don’t need to drive the point home too hard after the week the world has had. The spears, arrows, and sharp swords (guns and bombs) don’t always go amiss. What about that? What about then? Where is God? What are we to do? How does this psalm apply to that reality?
It seems to me that we can go very shallow here (‘oh, it’s all good you know – la la la!’) or we can go very deep. Let’s leave aside the shallowness, which is self-refuting. The depth of it is that if we are in God—really, truly in Him—then our bodies can be pierced with bullets and blown apart by explosives, and in truth this does not harm us. It hurts us—may indeed kill us—but fundamentally it does us no harm.
If we are in God—truly, deeply, really in Him—then the death of our bodies do us no harm. The pain of injury, the pain of loss and grief, deep injustice, terrible confrontation with evil, miserable times of sorrow and tribulation—all of these are real, and are just awful to endure.
But… they hurt us, but do not harm us. If we are in God. If God is our life. If we have by His grace placed ourselves so utterly into His care and His mercy (‘Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me’) that our true life, our true self, our whole being is there.
This is not some shallow silly consolation—well, it’s all gonna work out in the end, ya know! This is the deep consolation of faith, the deep truth of God and Jesus and eternal life and heaven. The consolation of the Spirit. This psalm is not just whistling a happy tune in the dark of night; it is a solemn testimony that the dawn is coming, no matter what. Dawn is coming; God is coming. God is here. In the blackest of black nights, God is with us. And so we praise Him, glorify Him, call out to Him for mercy, and keep going no matter what.
And if the so-called worst happens—if that bullet finds us, that bomb blows us up, we will simply close our eyes in this world and open them in the next, and proceed to the next verse of the next psalm—praising and glorifying God forever in the world that has no end and is free of sorrow and pain. Nothing can harm us, if this is our life.