I pray to you, O Lord, my rock.
Do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you are silent,
I might as well give up and die.
Listen to my prayer for mercy
as I cry out to you for help,
as I lift my hands toward your holy sanctuary.
Do not drag me away with the wicked—
with those who do evil—
those who speak friendly words to their neighbors
while planning evil in their hearts.
Give them the punishment they so richly deserve!
Measure it out in proportion to their wickedness.
Pay them back for all their evil deeds!
Give them a taste of what they have done to others.
They care nothing for what the Lord has done
or for what his hands have made.
So he will tear them down,
and they will never be rebuilt!
Praise the Lord!
For he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and shield.
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.
The Lord gives his people strength.
He is a safe fortress for his anointed king.
Save your people!
Bless Israel, your special possession.
Lead them like a shepherd,
and carry them in your arms forever. (New Living Translation)
The biblical character David, in frustration and agony, cried out for help, for God to hear his prayers. And, when his prayer was heard, David gave exuberant praise to the Lord for listening to him.
We are not told specifically of how that prayer was answered and what happened between the request and the response. It seems the juicy details are left out on purpose, so that maybe we would not get lost in the retribution but stick with the fact that there was a desperate need and the Lord stepped in and did something about it.
As I pondered this psalm and its lack of life-detail, I wondered about David’s situation:
Could it be that David gave God praise just for being heard by him?
Was David cured in some way, or was he healed from the need to be healed?
Was there even any actual deliverance that occurred?
Did David come to praise God despite a lack of deliverance?
Was David’s joy in his relationship with God conditional, or unconditional?
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (c.1601 C.E.) put the question this way: “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” Hamlet’s soliloquy went on to say:
“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance, to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin (knitting needle)?”
Hamlet, much like David of old, was miserable and burdened with a profound lack of power to change his circumstances. So, he reflects on life and death in a morbid and melancholy way. It’s not that Hamlet was contemplating suicide as much as he meditated on what life truly is and finding some meaning within it. Unlike David, Hamlet cannot find the courage to deal with his frustration and feels stymied with fear of the unknown.
If we are blatantly honest with ourselves, we must admit that far too often we have a particular outcome in mind that we want or expect God to do. Our hopes become tethered to God doing something extremely specific so that, if it does not come to pass (or does not come quickly!) we become discouraged and disillusioned. Like Hamlet, we become lost in the shadows of our thinking and ponder some sort of escape.
So, here is another set of questions I am asking myself:
If my adverse circumstances do not change, can I praise God anyway?
Can I, like David, take joy in simply being heard?
Can I find gratitude in all situations?
Do I only express thanks and praise to God when things are going my way?
Am I open to whatever God wants to do in my life, even if it is not what I would choose?
Do I feel that I am above having to put up with the wickedness of this world?
Am I expecting heaven on earth, or am I willing to suffer as Jesus did?
I honestly believe the answers to those questions will determine the trajectory of our Christian experience. For the identity and meaning of all persons is found in the divine.
I praise you, O God, in the good and the bad, the easy and the difficult, the failures and the victories. You are Lord over all things. You are my strength and shield in every circumstance. When I am weak, I am strong. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Amen.