In my childhood church, I heard a lot of talk about the sweet by-and-by and someday up yonder and when the saints go marching in and someday in glory. Our church family was great at celebrating God’s eternal promises and taking care of our own when crisis hit, but not so great at seeing the hurt in our wider community. Somehow, the Bible’s calls to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger were given little attention or authority. I believe my beloved church home was similar to many others in this regard. And I struggle with these memories now because I still love that church and those people, but I believe that this Christian focus on eternity is rooted in fear of the present and not in trusting what God can and will do.
It is hard to trust God – especially with scary real-life situations…
What if I give away some of what I have to help someone else and then I don’t have enough? What if I give my money to a homeless person and she/he uses it for drugs?
What if I give money to the woman at the grocery store and then I see her the next day begging again? What if our planet keeps changing for the worse? What if I am vulnerable with someone and then they hurt me? What if…
Psalm 27 begins by addressing fear. The very first verse says, “The Lord is my light; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Even for the giants of the faith like King David, fear was alive and well and found its way into his decision making and his daily life. But, in this Psalm (attributed to King David), the Psalmist says that even in real-life situations, he trusts in God when he writes, “though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.” This trust is not about some starry realm in the sky. This is trust in God in the event of a real, dangerous, scary (even likely) event.
What would the Psalmist write today, in 2020?
Though a pandemic will rage and cause my entire way of life to change in one season, my heart shall not fear.
Though the systems of my society are changing to balance power better, my heart shall not fear.
How would you write this verse of Psalm 27?
The Psalm ends with a strikingly beautiful statement: “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” This Psalm grounds us in a rigorous faith that holds up a mirror to the kind of faith that chooses to ignore pain and suffering. It acknowledges the realities of the world we live in: evildoers are alive, we have adversaries, war rises up again and again, and this Psalm also holds us accountable to witness to God’s goodness even throughout these difficult realities. We do not pine for some far-off eternal victory. We believe we see the goodness of the Lord here, today, even in a lonely quarantine, and in the protests, and in the hospitals, and in the backyard, and at the lake, and in the state Capitol, and on Zoom, and on and on. Psalm 27 is a testament to hope in times of hopelessness and a powerful statement of faith in the evidence of God’s goodness against the backdrop of devastating pain in our world. Where have you seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living?