A Reflection Inspired by Bonhoeffer
February 21, 2012
A Revisitation: Frock and Collar
February 29, 2012

1 Hasten, O God, to save me;
come quickly, LORD, to help me.

2 May those who want to take my life
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
be turned back in disgrace.
3 May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”
turn back because of their shame.
4 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
“The LORD is great!”

5 But as for me, I am poor and needy;
come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
LORD, do not delay.

Psalm 70

In my early months of graduate school, I spent a great deal of time bonding with Old Testament characters. While there was certainly a cultural gap between us, there were also common human traits: sadness, doubt, faith, love, greed, humility, and joy. Often, I would attempt to read through the Israelite narratives as though I were experiencing them myself—altering bits and pieces to make the story more believable for this day and age.

As I read this Psalm, however, I see no need to bridge the chronological gap. Certainly I can imagine the voice in this psalm crying out, and I can readily conjure images of the battles of Joshua or David that would be apt settings for such a cry. But it’s hardly unique to the Old Testament world. I hear myself in these words as readily as David; I cry them as surely as Joshua did on the battlefields with Ahimalek.

My battles are not, however, fought with swords and infantry. But the feeling of dichotomy between good and evil is nonetheless very familiar to me—a pitched battle between the world’s temptations and my desire to hold fast to the will of God.

I think, however, that this particular Psalm is a combination of muddy angst, fear, and bald anger. On a human level, it is very understandable, and it reminds me of the limitations of my humanness: there are many times when I must lean on God to see me through.

But to wish such ill on my enemies is not remotely my inclination—not in sober moments. I grant you, enjoying a clear and balanced reflection in the face of suffering and pain is almost impossible, but I have often been blessed with them before and after calamity. In these moments, I can either choose to hold fast to the anger and fear that dominated me in the heated moments of pain, or I can work to recognize the good of the situation and potential for healing—for everyone.

At the same time, this psalm resonates as an uplifting of faithful Israel. Today, I look on it as a cinematic close-up of one faithful Israelite, desperate and delirious, but nonetheless part of the body of God. Christianity talks often of the body of Christ, and though it is commonplace to hear it, I think the gravity of its meaning is often missed. We are the church in sum, the body of Christ on this earth, and his working hands. To that end, as Christ himself said, those who act against us as we live in the person of Christ, acts against Christ. Taking another look at this Psalm, then, it could easily be seen that Israel is calling on God to put under his feet those who act against his living body. In other words, God is given the opportunity to defend himself.

The human in this reading comes back full force in verse four, when the meekness of that voice reflects on the joyful presence of God. All who seek him are glad and praise him. That is to say, there is the manifest will of God in all things: in pain and in joy. Through the suffering, God is made known through faith of those who suffer, and in salvation, he is made known by kindness and healing. Though the voice in these few verses may not have been thinking on God’s boundless will, there is something to be said for the turn of demeanor in the “but” of verse four. That is, even though this faithful human being seeks God and finds suffering, there is the recognition that there are greater things at play than the moment. God will lead absolutely to goodness and joy, but sometimes there is suffering to be endured first. I hear the voice in this passage reminding himself of that, as surely as holding God accountable to him for salvation in the midst of his pain.

The resounding truth of the final lines is simply an unabashed declaration of our need for God. It is not about being empty of purpose or strength, but simply in acknowledging that life in sum comes from God, and we must lean on God for that life. It is a fragile thing, to be sure, but the way in which we come to God is an awkward stumbling block of an existence, wherein we recognize our abilities and our lack. For both, we need God; for both, we give thanks that they are ways in which God is brought closer to us, and he is manifest through our good works.

But, to be sure, it is God’s work and only our hands.

 

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