Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Staying Power of God

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul.
Psalm 31:7 ESV
These past couple of years, it would not be an exaggeration to say, have been years of great distress for many families. Financial stress, health epidemics, declining security, both personal and national, and to some degree, the fading of the essential unifying principle of a common faith, have converged upon us and have shattered the facades we had constructed to ward off the enemies of our comfort, leaving us naked and exposed.

Recent events, such as the shootings at Fort Hood, and the rising of unemployment to the highest levels in over 25 years, have exposed our areas of increasing vulnerability. It is as if we are living through the times of our greatest dread.

Living in the shelter of imagined security is foolish. Like the man who built his house upon the shifting sands, in Matthew 7:27, the results can be catastrophic. We read there:

And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
Ultimately, there is no comfort in facades. What we have built, what we have saved, and what we have believed amount to nothing unless they have all been built upon the one thing which David speaks about in our lead passage, the steadfast love of God.

In the tumult of his life, created in large part by his own conniving and sin, David recognizes that God is not a mere spectator in our lives. His love is not offered from an objective distance; rather, it is love in which he is engaged so deeply that he lives in the very beings of those who believe in him.

He is indeed the greatest stakeholder in our lives. Not our parents, not our spouses, nor even we ourselves, have a greater claim on us than does God himself. He is our creator, the one who sustains our lives in good times and bad, and he alone assures us of lasting security, gained not through means of our own, but through the giving of his son. Indeed, he has the ultimate stake upon our lives.

David recognizes in this passage God's intimate awareness of our condition--you have known the distress of my soul. Knowledge is more than seeing; it is firsthand, more like empathy than observation.

And, if God is intimately aware of our condition, he is put off by our facades. He sees how they crush our intimate possibilities with him. He loathes them. They are obstacles to the intimacy he desires with us, whether we see it that way or not. It is correct, then, to say that God is more intimate with our condition, and the tragic circumstances of our distress, than we are ourselves. And, David knows this.

A revealing mark of David's faith is his confidence in God. David reveals in many of the psalms a heartfelt sense of shame and sorrow, which he often expresses to God with tears and the language of a sincere penitent. And, in doing so, his prayers reach a level of honesty that a doubting person cannot achieve. In his laments, David understands how big God is--God knows, even better than he himself knows, the afflictions and distress of his soul.

A doubting person would at most be silent, hoping the shame will go away by ignoring it. An angry doubter might indeed shake his fist in defiance of God, thus expressing a crisis of faith in the goodness of God.

But, in this psalm, David expresses his confidence, not simply in the omnipresence of God, but in the very character of his omnipresence--God's steadfast love.

And, this confidence in God's intimate knowledge of him, rather than causing David to heap more shame upon himself than he already has, brings joy--I will rejoice and be glad. And, this joy comes only because David knows God, and he trusts God without pretense or facade.

Might it be that in our season of great distress we could find ourselves trusting in God, his character, his eternal presence, his staying power, his steadfast love?

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