As I write these thoughts, like you, we eagerly await the last bands of Hurricane Florence to subside, and the bright return of sunny days to dry the land. My thoughts this morning go to those days when I would run the Emerald Coast when the fog had not yet lifted. Starting off on the run, the lap of ocean waves to my left, gave me confidence to start the run and head along the shoreline, with confidence that the fog of the morning would soon lift away. Watching the color swirls from uninterrupted coverage of Hurricane Florence hovering over our coastline – churned many feelings of despair for those choosing to “wait out the storm” and the devastation to our shoreline in North Carolina, and for all of life in the path of the storm.
Psalm 27 parallels such a climate. A sunny song of trust beams through threats. Clouds of gloom and devastation threaten the psalmist. Amid the lament, the psalmist prays to be led “on a level path” similar to the path that leads by the ocean sea. David begins the sunny song of trust by declaring, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
The repetition of fear and afraid reminds me of the Queen’s observation to Hamlet that she “protests too much.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1933 Inaugural Address assured the American people “that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Although Roosevelt addressed a general fear that threatened to paralyze the country, David faced four specific fears – “evildoers, adversaries, an army and war.” Like David, fears confront us. Occasionally an adversary attacks our reputation with gossip or false charges. Evildoers pervade our crime-ridden society. Soldiers face fears during war.
In his heart rending journal Cancer and Faith: Reflections on Living with a Terminal Illness, John Carmody, a theologian at the University of Tulsa, describes the invading fear of cancer. Doctors gave Carmody three years to live. He chronicles his response to the dreaded disease saying: “Somehow, ‘cancer’ seems to evoke more thought than ‘heart disease,’ though often the latter can threaten our lives more immediately. The idea that something in us is growing against us makes us seem a house divided, a body bent on self-destruction… In presenting some reflections on cancer prompted by my Christian faith, I hope to inspire others with an invitation of hope.” Carmody composes a song of trust and confidence even as he contemplates his approaching death.
Despite the four threats, David in Psalm 27 affirmed, “yet I will be confident.” He voiced the sincere desire of his soul “to live in the house of the Lord” because he trusted God ultimately to be for him. Likewise, John Carmody ended his song of confidence with the pregnant prayer, “…I find myself saying, ‘Maranatha.’ I murmur, in good times and in bad, ‘Come God, my death’.”
In Psalm 27, the first six verses is the song of trust and not an escapist flight from threatening realities. Instead, amid threatening fears the song of trust affirms, as Patrick Miller maintains in They Cried to the Lord, “Though such fear is real, it is not the final word.” These opening verses are a song of trust similar to the sunny days when the end of the island point is visible on a clear day’s run along the beach. The latter verses are a gloomy lament similar to the days when haze and clouds hover over the beaches, yet we know the point at the end of the island is there – even when it is not in view.
I suspect one reason the movie “Forest Gump” was a hit is because the movie alternated between the ups and downs all of us experience. Tears dampened my eyes as I hear Forrest Gump grieve in that painful drawl, “Mama said dying is a part of life but I wish it wasn’t.”
A lament is the anguished cry of someone pleading for God’s intervention to help put life’s broken pieces back together. Laments voice our pain, our yearning for wholeness as we experience brokenness. Laments articulate our complaints when we are unable to celebrate. Laments verbalize our gripes and groans as we grope through life’s damp depressing seasons.
Psalm 27 ends with an affirmation, repeated in Joshua 1 and elsewhere in the Psalms. It parallels the typical movement of a lament from petition to praise, from complaint to celebration and from griping to gratitude. It ends in the pinnacle place of trust: “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
Anchor your faith, my friends, Rick