Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 31’

PSALM 31:1-5, 15-16

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
    do not let me ever be put to shame;
    in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
    rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
    a strong fortress to save me.

You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
    for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
    you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

15 My times are in your hand;
    deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
    save me in your steadfast love.

If human beings were perfect and self-sufficient, the very concept of salvation would have no meaning, at least as it applies to us. In that case, maybe we would be the gods and saviors of lower and less perfect beings. As it is, we are neither perfect nor self-sufficient, but limited and dependent in ways we often try to conceal or deny.

By virtue of occupying a particular location in reality we lack the full view from where we stand; so we long for wisdom and understanding. We often lose our bearings and get confused on the way through life; so we long for guidance and direction. Because we are moral beings, we frequently get pulled down by the weight of our guilt and regrets; so we long for forgiveness and a fresh start.

But we also tend to make enemies and get tangled in troubles of our own design; so we long for refuge and freedom. And even though life itself is a passing career, our blessing (or curse) of self-consciousness makes us susceptible to anxiety; so we long for peace and dream of living forever.

Add to this the fact that we are animal organisms who need protection, company, and nourishment from outside ourselves and the list lengthens considerably.

So we have a choice. Either we can accept this about ourselves and use these inherent deficiencies to inspire our reach into a provident reality, or we can resent the fact and refuse to rely on anyone or anything beyond ourselves. Obviously the second option amounts to some serious delusions, as severing all ties of dependency to the world around would result in the quick extinction of even the most stalwart and rugged egoist among us.

Salvation, then, comes in many varieties. But the fundamental insight behind them all is that human beings are participants in a complex system of cooperation, resource, grace and support. Both the act of releasing oneself in surrender to the provident nature of reality and stepping into a life posture of humility, trust, and gratitude is what is meant by faith.

Consequently there are two basic types of religion: the kind that shames and scandalizes our deficiency as something that separates us from God, and the kind that honors and celebrates it as the places where God can be most real to us.

PSALM 31:9-16

9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eye wastes away from grief,
    my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
    and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
    and my bones waste away.

11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
    a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
    those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
    I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
    terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
    as they plot to take my life.

14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
    deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
    save me in your steadfast love.

Along the course of spiritual development a neophyte becomes a “true believer,” where the questions of faith are gradually resolved and replaced with the answers of doctrine. The searching question of God gives way to orthodox theories about God. An open and curious mind gradually closes down on certainties.

When you are taught that God loves you, watches out for you, and will intervene on your behalf in times of trouble, the naive expectation is that God will come through. But what happens when he doesn’t? Is it that God doesn’t see your suffering? Is he watching but just doesn’t care? Could it be that God is aware of your suffering and desperately wants to help you, but is limited in his power to do so? Such are the new questions that stretch and threaten the definitions of orthodoxy.

One way of “saving God” – or saving your concept of God – is to take responsibility for his silence or absence. Perhaps you don’t deserve God’s help. Maybe you’ve done something to disqualify yourself from divine favor. What if God is punishing you with this ordeal, for a sin you have conveniently forgotten? Or it might be that your faith is not what it needs to be and God is actually subjecting you to this pain or loss in order to make you stronger.

And so on.

But the evolutionary arc leading from neophyte to true believer doesn’t end there, without a significant amount of what might be called spiritual frustration where the soul’s journey to fulfillment is stymied and cut short of its intended goal. Beyond the “true believer” stance of religious commitment and doctrinal certainty is the mystical experience. In that place, on the other side of truth as it were, there is no theological possessive such as might prompt the soul to say, “You are my God.”

In the experience of divine presence, this moment is enough. There is nothing else.