“. . .surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.”
I’ve been to Japan, studied Shintuism a bit, and not been seduced. I’ve listened to ex-Buddhists describe their childhood faith, but never felt much inclined to Buddhism either. Native American religion interests me greatly, but I’m not about to jump into a breech cloth or a sweat lodge—well, maybe a sweat lodge.
Last week, our preacher said the first commandment—to worship no other gods—is often a piece of cake if we think of Mohammed, for instance, or Buddha as God’s rivals. He’s right. Most Christian believers aren’t tortured by their closet animism.
The god most of us really want to worship, our preacher said, is ourselves. Pride is the first of the Seven Deadlies, and it has been since someone wrote up the list, since Adam and Eve wanted the apple God forbad, and since the instinct-like will to live was born in each of us. We want what’s best for us—for better or for worse. The god God almighty doesn’t want us to worship is the glorious, omnipotent Me.
I say that because I don’t always trust David. I trust the Word that emerges from his songs. I trust the God he trusts. I trust the truth of the scriptures themselves. But I don’t always trust him, and I don’t because, in this psalm at least, I think he’s protecting himself, like all of us do. Why shouldn’t he? He’s human.
Psalm 32 starts so very well—a clear sense of intent, the thesis, proudly and yet lovingly proclaimed in the opening verses. Then the story central to all believers, told well, convincingly, in the next four verses: he sings for joy because he’s been—hallelujah!—forgiven of his sins and miseries.
Then things get messy. What he says next is understandable: Given what I’ve been through, he says, I hope all of you experience what I did of the glorious freedom of grace. Fine. And then, “if you can.” Odd sentiment, suggesting, of course, that our timing—or worse, God’s—could be off. Things may not work out. Strangely undercuts his enthusiasm, doesn’t it? And then, “surely.” I don’t like where that word is positioned because it feels tentative—“surely you’ll not be harmed in danger.” Surely. Surely.
And then “you are my hiding place.” Is David, post-Bathsheeba, post forgiveness, looking for a place to hide? “You will protect me from trouble”??? From more Uriahs? The great problems of the opening verses were not caused by enemies tearing down palace walls; they were created totally by destruction, pride as much as lust, David’s fierce desire to serve the great God of self—my wants, my needs, my sweet Bathsheeba.
Even though he begins this psalm with triumph, there’s some shakiness here. He’s sure God’s forgiveness is the greatest thing that ever happened to him, he wants to sing his joy; but there’s a tentativeness in verses six and seven that has him pressing for words and even losing focus. He’s not lying, but he sounds more like a salesman than a devout.
But then that very oh-so-human tenderness may be his greatest gift to believers thousands of years later, to us—that he sounds like we do. Human. Sometimes confident, sometimes not, sometimes wanting to be more confident than he is. Sometimes even when we wants like mad to get it right, he gets it wrong. So much like us.
And—get this--still so much loved by the Lord.