Praying in the dark


Psalm 89

File:Hope gate.jpg

Hope gate, seen from outside, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, circa 1871

1I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.

It is not unusual for the lectionary to pick out the praise portions of a psalm for us to sing or say in Sunday worship, but much more is going on in this psalm that just these words of praise. There was a time when a line or two would call to mind for the worshipping assembly the whole of the psalm, but those days seem long past. We are no longer Abraham Lincoln learning to read by firelight with a copy of a Bible. We are not a biblically literate society anymore. When we hear the poet recite God’s promise: “I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations,” we do not hear also the cry that comes at the end of the psalm “Yet you have rejected, spurned and become enraged at your anointed. You have repudiated the covenant with your servant; you have dragged his dignity in the dust.” (39-40TNK)

The poet lives and prays in the tension between the promise of God and the apparent collapse of that promise.

This makes the opening words of the psalm poignant:

1I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
2I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

They are words of praise, but words overshadowed.

3You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to my servant David:
4‘I will establish your descendants forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’”

God promised forever, but now that lineage has perished. The sons of the king were executed by the Babylonians; the city walls torn down; the temple stripped, desecrated and consigned to flames. The kingship is no more.

What does he do with this tension? Is the future gone, or is the future to come in ways we have not conceived? Do we go forward trusting a hidden faithfulness, a grace greater than our sins? Or do we walk away, letting faith crumble into the dust along with the bones of the defeated?

The poet is not singing of God’s steadfast love in the bright shiny days full of hope and possibility; he is singing of God’s covenant faithfulness in the darkest night. It is not a religious self-delusion. It is not a blind faith. It is a deep faith. The very deepest of faith: faith that has seen into the heart of the eternal and knows mercy is not at an end. He dares to trust that “His compassions fail not”.

We see this in many places in the scripture. Faith that walks through the valley of the shadow of death trusting a promise whose fulfillment they cannot see.

17Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, 18yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. 19God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-190

This psalm is not a song of untested faith. This is faith that has seen hope crushed yet not lost hope. This is faith that has seen Good Friday but trusts an Easter to come.

The promise of God abides, even when we are in exile. The promise of God abides, even when the land of promise is far off. The promise of God abides even when Abraham is 100 and Sarah 90. The promise abides even when Joseph is sold by his brothers, betrayed by Potiphar’s wife, and forgotten in prison by the royal cupbearer. The promise abides. The steadfast love of the LORD never fails. It is a spring that flows in every arid day and becomes a river of life. From this promise to David a future shall come – a future whose mystery and majesty we have not yet begun to conceive.

But it is why the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy. It is why Simeon and Anna rejoice. It is why all heaven sings, to the fearful surprise of shepherds. It is why Mary goes to the tomb even after hope is lost. The promise abides, and is fulfilled in ways that can only fill us with awe.

The poet expresses his lament, but he cries out because he knows the faithfulness of God. He prays in the darkness because he knows God is light.

One thought on “Praying in the dark

  1. Pingback: Matthew 6:1-34 – The Nazarene’s Commentary on Leviticus 19:18 Continued 2 Prayer and neighbour love | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

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