“For day and night your hand was heavy upon me.” Psalm 32
“The gift that keeps on giving,” Garrison Keilor says, of guilt. I don’t know many Jewish folks, nor enough Roman Catholics to generalize, but my guess is that guilt likely runs as rampant among believers of all stripes as does allergies or acne or avarice—or, for that matter any of the other Seven Deadlies.
I’m guessing no single group or fellowship holds a patent on guilt, but here in the upper Midwest, children of the northern European Protestants—Calvinists, Lutherans, and their Mennonite friends—seem to have it in spades.
For three decades and more, Garrison Keilor has been trading on dark and somber types, me included. Today, he simply needs to mention the word “Lutheran,” and his listeners know exactly the darksome tone that is about to emerge from his tales.
There are tons of reasons for our excesses, I’m sure, but I’ll assert one of them—the degree to which we are affected by our environment; and here, on the Great Plains especially, the excesses of that environment.
Everything comes in spades where I live—winter’s cold, summer’s heat, rainfall, snow, drought, hail, tornadoes, and the ubiquitous, howling wind. It’s no wonder we’re losing population out here. Sometimes, when a hot wind takes off your face like a ratchet, I think General Zebulon Pike was right: this really is the Great American Desert. For more than a century we’ve been hoodwinked by real estate crooks. Maybe we ought to sell the whole Upper Midwest to Ted Turner and his buffalo.
I’m wandering. We’re talking about guilt because that’s what David is talking about in verse three, and the weather here is a long way off.
Here’s what I mean. In the land where I live, it’s almost impossible not to be a victim of the weather. A friend of mine moved to California; he said whenever he scheduled a game of golf, it took him more than a year to forget that he didn’t have to worry about bad weather. Here, everything—including livelihood, much of it agricultural—is dependent on weather, and the weather is often dangerously wicked.
It’s a form of dependency we’re forced to accept and therefore it’s hard not to believe in some higher power. Where I live, it takes some chutzpah to be arrogant when a 20-second hailstorm can get wipe you out completely.
For better and for worse, those who feel God’s hand in the daily regimen of life find it easier to believe. They know that when they’re safely in that almighty hand—when He’s holding us lovingly—we feel the greatest comfort life can offer.
But when that hand is pressing down upon us, the sober souls of Lake Woebegone know just as surely, as did King David, that its weight is impossible to bear.
Perhaps what people say is true: “a guilty conscience needs no accuser.” But how much worse it is when the accuser is God almighty. That’s the heaviness David feels in his bones and joints, day and night, as he says.
Unrelenting. Laughter helps a great deal—thank you, Garrison. But David knows, from personal experience, that the only relief is forgiveness.
That’s what Psalm 32 is all about.