I had three different posts started for this morning—the lections are so wonderful, one could go in so many different directions—but then I woke up to another tempest on Twitter. The Twittersphere moves so frustratingly fast that having started to write about Rachel Hollis, and then sort of pivoting to Josh Duggar, this morning I found that everyone is angry with Desiring God and so I am again at sea. This is why it is useless for me to try to write anything before Sunday, which means I need to quit morning church and go find a congregation that worships in the afternoon (JK).
So anyway, in one swell weekend, Rachel Hollis has been canceled, Josh Duggar has been arrested, and Desiring God has published a post encouraging husbands to emulate Christ by being prophet, priest, and king in their own homes.* Meanwhile, Jesus is trying to comfort his disciples on the night before he died, because the lectionary organizers arranged for that to be the gospel text for this morning. But it’s really the psalm that caught my attention because it seems to me to be exactly the sort of tweak one needs when one is spinning around in all the directions. The first line might be hard for you if you are feeling crushed to earth as I am:**
Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.
Except for Twitter, obviously. On that platform it is a lot of shouting into the void, but not with any kind of joy. And even when I am not anywhere near the internet, but am silently going from room to room trying to clean up all the dust and mayhem, the inside of my head is screaming with frustration. And so are all the people in every corner of the world, crying out woe and misery as death and trouble sweep from one side of the globe to the other. But that is not the command, not just to scream in rage and frustration. Shout rather for joy because God is God, because he is strong, because his enemies will be crushed and will not be able to rise up and destroy his good work.
Come and see what God has done; he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.
He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in him, who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations—let not the rebellious exalt themselves.
The mighty and good work of God is not to create a utopia for the children of man. He isn’t going to make everyone get along and be good and build some peaceful city where the garbage collection happens regularly and there is no more racism or misogyny. He isn’t making it easier to use social media or to shop without getting covid. He isn’t going to help us each be the change we want to see in the world, nor even to stop all men from lust. Come and see the work that God has done, because it is a confounding and strange work. It is a glorious one, though to understand it without his help is impossible.
This is the task of the Psalmist. His job is no more complicated a work than observing the tumultuous action of God and being grateful for it. The Psalmist—but really all the people of Israel, caught there at the edge of the Red Sea, hemmed in by water on one side and a malign army on the other, who are angry and frustrated and distrustful—was forced to put one foot in front of the other through that long night, going on dry land away from captivity and into the wilderness. The Lord kept watch all night as he—as they, as we—went. God rules by his might still. What are you going to do? Keep screaming? Or stop and give up your sacrifice of praise?
Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
You have brought us into the net; you have laid a crushing burden on our backs;
And there, most strangely, is where the lectionary organizers leave it. The Psalm goes on for another ten verses, but if you are in church this morning, the Psalm will die away and you will go on to hear a reading from I John, before turning your head to hear the gospel proclaimed that Jesus is not leaving his friends as orphans, but will come again to them, and that they will “know the Father.” But because this is only a blog post, we can keep with the Psalm, which goes on:
You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; you have brought us out to a place of abundance.
It’s that quick—one line to compass the crushing hand of the Almighty as he saves those he loves. As I watched the juxtaposition of Rachel Hollis against Josh Duggar, two cultural figures who have been held up, indeed have held themselves up, as models for other people to emulate—be like me, I’ve got my life together—I have wondered, again, at the peculiar American desire for fame.
Fame is the way we discover what is good and what is evil, who is right and who is wrong, who is blessed and who is cursed. The great jumble of celebrity advice-giving all the way from Rachel Hollis to the Duggars to Oprah to everyone on Twitter who can tell everyone else what to think and what to do is a great cacophony. The unifying assumption is that the famous must be famous for some good reason and if only the obscure will follow after such and such celebrity, she will be saved. But God is not confused. And so, he, “laid a crushing burden” and “brought us into the net.” He maneuvered his people into a wretched and perilous situation. He brought them into great suffering. Not just the Red Sea, not just the night of Jesus’ Passion where all of his closest friends scattered in fear, not just the Exile. No—this net, this burden are there for all believers who suffer something so terribly difficult that they don’t know how they will go on. They are crushed under the weight of suffering, of ruin, of evil. They are drowning. They are scorched. They know they will surely perish because they cannot endure.
Surely Rachel Hollis, in the dark moments when she thinks no one is watching, must not know which way to place her foot. She must be crushed under a burden of her own making. And yet how kind of God to let her stumble and fall—for now she has a chance to humble herself and seek his mercy, if only someone will tell her. And how much, much more gracious of God to let Josh Duggar finally meet his own ruin face to face, for now he also can reckon out whether he is God’s enemy, or whether he also desires mercy. And so also for any unknown person writhing in a pew, unable to cope with the great multitude of trouble and grief that keeps one fixed, there, having to put one foot in front of the other without knowing if there even is a “place of abundance” on the other side, or what that will look like.
Into that single line Jesus steps with all his mercy. You are not orphaned there in your grief. It seems like he is leaving and there is no hope, but that’s not true. By going into his own scorching flood, by spilling his own blood onto the dry ground, he is working out the great work of his own Father, whom he loves, whom he obeys. He is the one who can say:
I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will perform my vows to you, that which my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
Because he is himself the offering.
Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
Blessed by God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!
All this can come crying out of the throat of the believer—the comforted and redeemed believer—because Jesus went first. He did not “cherish iniquity” as each of us has done, but did all the good that each of us so unhappily fails to do. Therefore, lift up your voice, shout with joy. Though you were cast down, yet by the mercy of God has Jesus lifted you up. Though you were crushed under a burden, however and whoever put it there, yet Jesus has lifted that burden off you and onto himself. Though you were drowning, yet he pulled you out of the pit and set you on dry ground. Though night presses in, yet he is the light that is greater than any darkness. Lift up your voice in the great congregation and praise him.
* too big and too thorny and issue, probably will try to blog about it this week
** except for the Orthodox who are busy celebrating Easter this morning, and aren’t already bored by being five weeks into it