Friday, November 13, 2015

The Scroll of Tears

Be merciful to me, my God, for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
 all day long they press their attack.
 My adversaries pursue me all day long;
in their pride many are attacking me.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?

All day long they twist my words; all their schemes are for my ruin.
They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps,
 hoping to take my life.
Because of their wickedness do not let them escape;
in your anger, God, bring the nations down.

Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll—
are they not in your record?
Then my enemies will turn back when I call for help.

By this I will know that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?

I am under vows to you, my God;
I will present my thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God in the light of life.
Psalm 56

Reflection – Well, we continue our path through the psalms, at this point a very rocky and difficult path indeed as we make our way through the ‘gloomy 50s’. Besides being intensely focused on suffering, our enemies, and the experiences of same, the psalms tend to become fairly interchangeable at this point, making it hard for a poor commentator who is committed to commenting on each of them to think of something new to say each week!

But enough about my problems. There is one verse in this psalm that leaps out at me. It is this business of ‘record my misery; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?’ One of the terrible aspects of suffering, something that makes whatever specific thing we are going through that much worse, is the sense of abandonment, of being forgotten by God and by man, of being utterly alone in it.

We can take a lot, if we know we’re not in it alone. It may still be hard, but if we have some kind of sense of support, that someone (or Someone) has our back, is with us in it, is truly on our side, it is endurable, doable.

When we feel utterly bereft of that support, it is much harder to bear. And so this particular psalm verse calls us to remember that God remembers us. For reasons known only to Him we are left, often, to go through whatever it is we have to go through, and this is indeed very hard, very difficult. But 
He is not neutral, not forgetful, not heedless, not uncaring of us. I like very much the idea that our tears have been listed on a scroll somewhere, that somewhere in heaven there is a ledger with all of our names written in it and the precise number of tears each of us has shed in this life.

This implies that our sufferings matter. That there is some greater purpose, some higher meaning, something about the fact that human beings have to go through such dreadful things (and I’m not remotely thinking of myself here – my life has been relatively easy compared to most people’s), something about the earth we live on being soaked with the tears of humanity that has a heavenly import.

I can’t pull the quote out of my early morning mind, but there is some literary quote about us being flies to the gods who like schoolboys torment us for sport (someone tell me in the comments who wrote that – it’s going to bug me now (no pun intended)). But this is not the Judeo-Christian understanding of things.

Our understanding is that, well, we don’t understand a whole lot, frankly. But that God is intensely aware of the sufferings of his creation, of his beloved people, and that every bit of it matters, means something, is for something. Nothing is wasted, nothing is for naught, everything has some meaning in the kingdom of heaven. And the suffering that most torments our minds and hearts—the sufferings of innocent children, the terrible unjust sufferings of the most victimized and brutalized of this world—every bit of that is recorded in heaven, everything is known, everything is remembered, and everything will be redressed, righted, rewarded, repaid.

And while this answers none of our questions of ‘why’ and ‘how’ regarding suffering, if we choose to believe it, it is some consolation at least, I believe. Some relief as we continue our path through the ‘gloomy 50s’ of this world and their sad song of suffering and sorrow. God knows; God sees; God will (in time) set things right. Alleluia.


  1. Thank you Fr. Denis. This is very hopeful.

    And here's the quote and reference:
    "As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods.
    They kill us for their sport."
    Gloucester, in King Lear, Act 4 Scene 1 (courtesy of Google :) )

    1. Ha! Thanks, Sue. This blog post is proof that I can, indeed, write in my sleep. Fully awake, I think I would have at least remembered it was Shakespeare.

  2. Thank you, Fr. Denis, I needed this today.

  3. Oh, I thought it was this one: “Some say that we shall never know, and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer's day, and some say, to the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.”
    ― Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey


    1. I'm pretty sure Wilder would have been quoting the Shakespeare reference, of course well known to him. But it is a very beautiful use of it, isn't it?


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