“thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies”
That King David had real enemies is, I suppose, both a curse and a blessing. The curse was that his scalp was frequently in danger, from enemies both without—warring tribes—and within—his predecessor as King, as well as his own son. There were human beings who, quite literally, wanted him dead.
I can’t really say the same is true of me. In a way, it’s a blessing, to have enemies so dauntingly verifiable. It’s far more difficult for me to visualize who exactly might be lying in wait around the corner. I honestly don’t know anyone who literally wants my life, nor why they would.
Not that I don’t have enemies. I do, but the most villainous characters in my life are all in me. I don’t need to look anywhere outside my own heart.
But it’s not me I’m thinking of this morning. Yesterday I listened once again to the story of Pong, a thirty-something Lao immigrant whose English language skills required a translator for me to understand him. I don’t know what nuance I may have missed because I don’t speak the Lao language, but Pong’s incredibly blameless smile, in the presence of his deep sadness, is a snapshot not unlike the one David offers in this verse.
Eight months ago, Pong’s wife left him. Overnight, he found himself entirely bereft of those in life for whom he cared most. But he wouldn’t consider her an enemy, even though she took their children and moved in with another man. Today, he actually smiles. If you were to see him in the video I made of the interview, if you were to hear him speak, watch him nod, see his gestures, you would not read shock or anger in his demeanor. Pong seems, well, at ease.
Why? “I have God in my heart to help me,” he says with joy.
This really brand-new believer claims the Bible tells him what’s really going on in his life and in all of our lives—specifically, that God’s love is a feast. It’s God in him that makes him smile, he says, even though his wife’s leaving has brought great pain.
This is what he told me: he’s learned forgiveness from the master teacher, the God who has forgiven him. The word of God is encouraging him to go on, he says. The Holy Spirit strengthens him even more, he claims. Even though he has seen his wife with another man, he can still smile and offer forgiveness. “It’s very difficult to understand for someone who doesn’t have God,” he says.
How about this? I think I know the Lord, but I too find his apparent peace baffling.
Through these months of separation, he says he and his mother-in-law have together grown closer to the Lord. In their sadness and anger, God has blessed both of them with hope and joy. The emptiness of his wife’s absence is real, but he does not despair. God almighty has given him hope, and that blessed hope makes him smile.
Pong’s enemies—and he knows it—are anger, grief, and even hate; the smile on his face—you should see it, really—is a kind of feast, a celebration of joy and hope and love in company of darkness that threatens him as dangerously as enemy David ever feared.
Patience, forgiveness, and joy—that’s the meal God has prepared for Pong. That’s what he’s learned, he says, and that’s what he told me and taught me, the skeptic.