Meditation on Psalm 143

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.

Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies;
In You I take shelter

Meditation on Psalm 140

Rescue me, Lord, from evildoers;
    protect me from the violent,
who devise evil plans in their hearts
    and stir up war every day.
They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s;
    the poison of vipers is on their lips.[b]
Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
    protect me from the violent,
    who devise ways to trip my feet.
The arrogant have hidden a snare for me;
    they have spread out the cords of their net
    and have set traps for me along my path.

 

 

This psalm, like many others, is the prayer of a warrior.

There is not a general agreement that David actually wrote this one, but it is attributed to him in the heading and its theme and expression are quite consistent with what we know of David from our study of the Old Testament.  Here the writer finds himself compassed about by enemies – violent and evil men who are determined to undo him.  The psalmist spends some ink describing what low-down creatures his enemies are and then cries to God for deliverance, asking that his enemies be drastically and violently punished.

How is it that people – people like me – have continued to find value and inspiration in this poem when most of us are not warriors?  Most of us are not military men – soldiers on an active battlefield.  Most of us don’t have evil men plotting to take our lives.  How is this poem anything to us?

Because, soldier or not, military career or not, active battlefield or not, all of us are at war.  Well, maybe not all of us are at war.  Some of us may be so oblivious to it that we can’t really be seen as participants.  But there is a war raging that affects us all.  If we give any credence to the New Testament, then we know that there is a spiritual battle being fought right here and in our time between good and evil.  The Bible tells us that the players in this conflict are not mere mortals:

Ephesians 6:12  English Standard Version

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

I’ve spent some time lately here on this blog taking about these “rulers, authorities and cosmic powers” that Paul refers to more than once. (see Colossians 2:8 and Galatians 4:9)  These passages have always intrigued me because they seemed to point to beings or forces that are not directly identified elsewhere in the scriptures.  Kind of spooky in a Stephen King sort of way.  I have never seen any Christian writer say much about them until I read Andy Crouch’s excellent book, Playing God.  He suggests that they are

“shadowy [and supernatural] powers that lurked behind human institutions and indeed the whole natural world”   They “are at the root of . . . cultural patterns . . . that have enslaved God’s image bearers, cutting them off from sight and life.”

All of that is pretty dramatic.  I don’t doubt it for a minute, but I wrote this post for the purpose of suggesting that most of us normal, non-super-hero type people do have some experience with this kind of thing.  How many times have we, perhaps after years of frustrated effort, said something like “There is just something in that [here insert personal preference: school, town, country, company] that will not let me loose, or that will not let me succeed.”

I wonder if this complaint is truer that we even suspect!   And if it is, how necessary for you and I to recognize what we are up against and to align ourselves with Christ, before whom such powers tremble and flee.

Wrestling With Beasts

 

 

 

“Revelation is a picture book, not a puzzle book.”  Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King

 

Yesterday in class, as we considered the idea that the images of the beasts described in chapter 13 of Revelation might be better understood if we thought of them as more akin to political cartoons than realistic images of horror, Karen remarked that she had just had an “aha” experience.  That is, a light was turned on somewhere and she understood something that had confused her before.  That’s worth noting, because that is precisely what is supposed to be happening as we study the scriptures together. While it is true, as CS Lewis says, that most of what we hear in church is what we’ve heard many times before and we go there not to see something new, but to be reminded of what we already knew, it is also true that discipleship is an education.  Think of the first disciples and how their fellowship with Christ changed them.  Jesus was not merely a teacher, but he was constantly trying to explain to His disciples who He was and the reality of the spiritual world and the battles going on there.  He sometimes used parables and it is impossible to think that there were not many “aha” moments as the disciples were gathered around Him, hearing His stories.

Here is the question we need to think about:  Is it really possible that we may learn things that will change our lives?  That’s a cliché these days.  Every pitch you read – whether it is for a new diet or exercise program or some self-help program – tells us that this “new, groundbreaking work” will “change your life.

We might laugh at that in reflection, but it wouldn’t be a cliché if it wasn’t working.  Why does it work?

One reason might be this one:  Our lives are in need of changing and we – somewhere deep down – know that.  We feel like we’ve missed the boat, somehow.  We keep waiting for our ship to come in and yet it stays out on the horizon.  We are faced with problems and situations that we have no insight into and that we desperately want to fix.

 

Is the Christian life any different from the lives of non-believers?  We well know that we will suffer all that is common to humanity – we are all subject to physical infirmity and decline and “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” but does our faith – and our full embrace of and deep immersion in it – give us anything that others do not have.

The answer, of course, is a resounding yes.  We start with the overwhelming truth that for the Christian, physical death is not the end.  We know that Christ has gone before us to “prepare a place for us” in eternity.

But for now, I’d like to refine the question a little bit.  What advantage does the disciple of Christ have in the facing of the daily battles of everyday life?  Does our study of the book of Revelation help us at all with the practicalities of life, or is our study mere abstraction – something to take our minds off of the messes in our lives?

We’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: John’s purpose – or at least one of his purposes – in writing this letter to the infant churches in Asia Minor is to give them an understanding  – of the world around them – that will help them practically and philosophically in their day to day lives.  For my money, those same lessons John imparted to the first-century Christians are immediately and profoundly relevant to us today.

Some have said that everything is in full supply in the modern west except clarity.  We are rich in terms of material goods, but we are completely confused about life – about the spiritual and moral realities around us and about how we should order and prioritize our lives.  We feel, as did Quick Draw McGraw, that we are “getting nowhere fast.”

John’s message speaks to the very heart of that confusion.  It is just the tonic that you and I need to steel our spines and to maintain hope, joy and sanity in the midst of it all.

In the next post, I’ll start considering the elements of John’s message, but let me close for now with this single thought, central to the message of the New Testament and completely ignored in modern thought:

 

There is a spiritual battle going on right now.  It’s being fought in time – that is, in the course of history and in the courses of our individual lives.  There are powerful forces of evil at work and for life to be what it ought to be, we must be aware of this battle and equip ourselves accordingly.