Continuing our series on Psalms we take a look this week at a Psalm of Thanks, Psalm 30. It is a psalm that is kind of like a connecting psalm. It recognizes that there will be despair and darkness in our lives while at the same time connects us in the hope for the here and now as well hope for the future. Which is kind of what a psalm of thanks sets up for us.
It’s no secret that each of us run into times of trial in our lives. We know this and we’ve talked about this. Some of the contemporary versions of the Lord’s Prayer acknowledge this when instead of ‘deliver us from evil’ it says ‘save us from the time of trial.’ As we recover from our various times of trial, as we recover from the depths of despair and the shadow of the valley of death, it is easy to ignore the pain as we look back on our experience and simply call ourselves blessed because God has saved us from a trial once again. I think we have to be careful with how we see God saving us from the depths of despair and the valley of the shadow of death.
I was listening to a Star Talk podcast with Neil deGrasse Tyson earlier this week and they were talking about the world record holder for someone being struck by lightning. It was something like 6 or 7 times and the guy who had been struck that many times noted, “Someone up there is watching out for me!” Neil deGrasse Tyson had the opposite view, commenting that if you want to go there about being watched over by someone up there then it would be just as likely that someone up there was trying to kill you with lightning, they just weren’t very good at it.
This is somewhat tongue in cheek but I take this personally because while I’ve never been directly struck by lightning, the alfalfa harvesting machine I was sitting in as I was waiting to unload one summer many years ago DID get struck by lightning, frying the radio and ignition while blowing me out of the cab landing very unceremoniously on the ground. Fortunately the only injury I received was from landing on my farmer pliers. I was very jumpy around lightning for a couple years after that.
Then, about 10 or 12 years ago my wife Lora, my brother Craig, and I were sitting out in our screen porch at our house in Omaha watching a thunderstorm. When all of a sudden lightning strikes the tree in our backyard, so about 20 feet from where we were sitting, frying the garage door opener and a VCR while getting our undivided attention with the flash of lightning and the boom of thundering happening simultaneously 20’ away. It also eventually killed the tree.
I’m not sure if someone was saving me or if someone was trying to kill me and not very good at it. What I am sure about is you probably don’t want to stand around me in the middle of a thunderstorm.
In any case, there’s an important distinction to be made here. It may be the case that God ordered things so that the record holder wasn’t injured or killed by lightning 6 or 7 times. It may be the case that God ordered things so that the machine or the tree was struck by lightning instead of me. It may be the case that God orders things in all our lives so that we aren’t in the middle of something bad but what about everyone else that IS in the middle of something bad? I think it more likely that in the storms of life God is not orchestrating these storms for or against us but instead is certainly there with us. With us in the depths of our despair and with us in the valley of the shadow of death.
That’s an important distinction because if we’re going to give God credit for the good stuff then we have to give God credit for the bad stuff. Since I don’t think God is in the business of handing us hard times I can’t say that God is in the business of handing us good times either. It’s so much better than that transactional kind of relationship.
Instead, God is a very present strength in our times of trial. Present with us so that we can get through the hard times and look back on them with a sense of being renewed. When we experience those times of despair, when we experience those walks through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side we are not the same people as before. We are transformed by the experience. We are new and renewed people.
Weeping may linger for a night but joy comes in the morning. This can be taken literally right as it says. As we wept last night we may now be at a point today that we experience joy. That can certainly happen exactly as it says when the situation we’re in is perhaps important but not profound. I’m hesitant to provide an example because things I can get over quickly may not be the same for others. But I think we all know of a situation that seemed like a catastrophe last night isn’t such a big deal in the morning. I also think it is well written and clever literature that can span a longer timeframe. For those situations where pit of despair is a little deeper and the valley of the shadow of death had a longer travel time. But depth and length notwithstanding, we still come out on the other side of the valley.
Which is ultimately what the psalm is pointing us to. It is pointing us to hope. Hope in our God that isn’t going to keep all the bad things out of our lives and isn’t going to create special presents for us to keep us happy. Hope in our God that will hold us and sustain us until the darkness slips away and the dawn comes to greet us.
Hope in our God in Christ that is present with us every moment of every day. The presence that we experience in our confession and forgiveness. The presence that we speak of in the bread and wine of communion. Hope in our God in Christ that surrounds us in our weeping at night and surrounds us in joy in the morning.