Psalm 143 is a poem about the heart.
Authorship is attributed to David, and David was a warrior and we can imagine the struggles that this psalm speaks of as being quite literal. That is, when David speaks of his enemies, he means literal, flesh-and-blood enemies – guys who are wearing the other uniform and who are really out to kill him.
For most of you reading this blog –and certainly for the writer of this blog – the enemy is not so solid and well defined. In this leveled and paved and air- conditioned world that you and I inhabit, we may even think that the idea that we have enemies who are out to get us and who have “made us to dwell in darkness” to be a bit over dramatic, a bit exaggerated, maybe even ridiculous.
But if we give any attention to the New Testament, we must admit that we do have enemies and that they very much do want to “smite” our lives “down to the ground,” and to “make us dwell in darkness.” Again, listen to what St. Paul says to the church in Ephesus:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6: 12
Likewise, the expression of desire in this psalm should not be strange to us. David is sure of the object of his desire. That object is God: “my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land.” We may not be so sure of the object of our desire, but if we are honest with ourselves and if we have not hidden it beneath some wall of self-deception, we must admit that we want and want very badly something that nothing in this world can satisfy.
That is why this psalm continues to resonate with men and women even in this modern age. Even among those of us who are privileged to live in secure democracies and in peaceful neighborhoods where we are not threatened physically; even those of us who have every convenience and entertainment. Even we desire; even we hunger and thirst, like a thirsty land. Here is C. S. Lewis:
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)
When David writes that “my spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate” we should have little trouble relating to him. We should know. If we have attempted anything at all – a career, a marriage, the raising of children – we know that we are opposed and powerfully so. We know that we can be defeated; we can be crushed; we can be depressed. We know that our desires always outstrip the satisfactions that this earthly life affords.
And so, this psalm is our psalm, and we pray with David, the warrior:
Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For in You do I trust;
Cause me to know the way in which I should walk,
For I lift up my soul to You.
9 Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies;
In You I take shelter