Be gracious to me, O God, for all day long foes oppress me.
O Most High, when I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I am not afraid;
what can flesh do to me?
Psalm 56 acknowledges both the grittiness of life and the grace of God. The psalmist has “enemies” who constantly “stir up strife; they lurk, they watch my steps.” The Message paraphrased Bible puts it this way: “they smear my reputation and huddle to plot my collapse. They gang up on me…”
This kind of conflict within our relationships can tear us apart and wear us down until we have no emotional energy left.
I’ve been there – feeling trampled, disrespected, disregarded. Have you?
But in the midst of this grinding turmoil, the psalmist sees this grace:
You have kept count of my tossings;
you put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your record?
The New International Version makes a note that the Hebrew here refers to a wine skin. God gathers our tears in a wine skin.
This image of wine skin makes me appreciate the thought all the more as I consider the bittersweetness of the Eucharist. The wine of communion remembered/honored as the blood of Christ. Tears and sweat, blood and water mingled into that which is redemptive and salvific. There is much to ponder here.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I am not afraid.
What can a mere mortal do to me?
Psalm 56 teaches us something crucial about faith. It’s not so much that we have faith. It’s not so much that we believe certain propositions. It’s not like the simplistic bumper sticker concept of “God said it, I believe, that settles it.”
Rather “faith” in Scripture means “trusting” in the One Who is trustworthy. Placing our faith in the One who is faithful; the One who keeps promises.
Psychologists and theologians alike tell us that we must believe in something. A perennial human question is not whether we shall trust but what or whom we shall trust.
A persistent temptation, of course, is to trust ourselves, our abilities or achievements, our resources, as do the psalmist’s opponents…
Theologian Clinton McCann is not telling us here that we should not have confidence in our abilities. Rather he lays out the question of the ancient psalmist and re-frames it for us moderns: Who is the Creator of our abilities? What is the Ground of our faith? Where is our Foundation?
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you…
This is active, intentional work we do as people of faith. To constantly challenge ourselves to re-orient ourselves toward the Source and Goal of our being. To consciously and intentionally – over and over again – place our trust in One who is “for us” and beyond us and with us.
The apostle Paul says this beautifully in Romans 8:
I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul reminds us that God’s faithfulness is not a magic wand making all our troubles disappear. God’s love and our consequent peace does not come after the hardship: rather we are immersed in love and peace that passes understanding in the midst of our trials.
This peace-that-doesn’t-make-sense is why we can stay grounded, hopeful, faithful. This presence of peace and love allows us to continually and confidently put our trust in God. To place our faith in the One who will never disappoint.
My vows to you I must perform, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
You have delivered my soul from death,
and my feet from falling,
so that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
“Light” is a frequent image the Gospel of John offers as he ponders the mystery of God: Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer. It is no accident that John’s Jesus describes himself as Light.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
The Light of life. In the midst of any darkness.
This Reality invites us, calls us, compels us to keep our own promises and to offer abundant thanks and praise to the God of All Life.
The God, whose word I praise,
The Lord, whose word I praise,
In God I trust; I am not afraid.
J.Clinton McCann, “The Book of Psalms” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1996, page 903.
See also Charlotte’s Living in The Story blog on Symbols in the Gospel of John.
The image is from Shutterstock. I found it here.