September 9, 2020

So Tightly

O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
Even now your enemies are in tumult; those who hate you have raised their heads.
They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against those you protect.
They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more.”
Fill their faces with shame, so that they may seek your Name, O Lord.  
—Psalm 83:1-4, 16

Today, I'll metaphorically hand the keyboard over to Hebrew poetry scholar C. Hassell Bullock*:
The story is told of a plane full of passengers, years ago, that was just taking off when the copilot noticed a rattle in the rear door of the plane. He went back to check it out, and as he did, the door started to swing open, and the copilot clung to the handle with all his might. When the pilot realized that the copilot was hanging on for dear life, he slowed the plane and brought it to a stop. And when he did, they had to pry the copilot's hands loose from the door handle.

On one side of the theological spectrum we might say we have to hold on to God just like that. But on the other side of the theological spectrum we would say that is just the way God holds on to us. In fact, he holds us so tightly that, unlike those who freed the copilot's hands, nothing—nothing among the conditions and circumstances of life, nothing among the cosmic powers of the universe—can pry us loose from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (see Rom. 8:35-39).

In Paul's Letter to the Romans, he follows a path that exposes the human condition over against the grace of Christ. In the book of Romans Paul metaphorically climbs a mountain, as it were, until in Romans 8 he faces the last challenge that leads to its crest. And there looming before him are the dreaded crevices and rock faces that mountain cimbers encounter, and in Paul's message they take the names of trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword—we could insert our own list. In this psalm, Israel's enemies imagine that they can destroy Israel's name (83:4) and thus destroy God's name (this seems to be the assumption). Yet, the psalmist prays that God wil meet their malicious actions with a shame that leads to grace (83:16). The message is not far from Paul's declaration: 'If God is for us, who can be against us?' (Rom. 8:31)
In the best of times, Dear Lord, help me to feel your gentle hand upon me, to guide and protect. In the worst of times may I know that even as I cling to you, you are holding me tight, in Jesus' Name who taught me to pray: Our Father...


*from Psalms, Vol. 2 (Teach the Text series), Baker 2017.

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