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Psalm 10

 

Why, O LORD, do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised. For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD. In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, "There is no God." His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them. He says in his heart, "I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity." His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity. He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net. The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might. He says in his heart, "God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it." Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, "You will not call to account"? But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none. The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

(ESV)

 

Our Pain, His Speech

Monday of Advent 2

8 December 2014

A military force that is outnumbered and outgunned should never allow itself to be cornered or boxed in by a superior force. The armies of the kings of Judah were almost always in exactly this difficult strategic position. They were careful not to get lured out onto the plains where the chariots of their enemies could do vicious damage to the infantry that made up the majority of Judah's fighting forces. They always wanted a clear path of retreat and the ability to avoid being cornered, especially on a plain. One of the few times Judah ventured onto a plain was at the Battle of Megiddo (609 B.C.), which became proverbial for military disaster and slaughter. As far as we know, King Josiah drew his forces up on the other side of a rise on the edge of the plain and surprised the Egyptian army that stood there. He attacked onto the plain only because he felt that the element of surprise would give him an edge over a superior fighting force. It didn't work out so well. Josiah himself was slain in the course of the battle. You can readily see why Judah never wanted to be cornered by a superior force. Who would?

 

Yet we find ourselves cornered this way in our daily lives. This is what we call "straitened circumstances." We are cornered, with no way out of the canyon. We are cornered there by a superior force: God Himself. Perhaps we don't expect Him. Perhaps we can't see Him, if we do expect Him. Perhaps we are looking for Him in the wrong direction. But because we are unable to see him coming, He easily overtakes us. We must confess that our sorrow and trouble comes from the Lord, that He has become our enemy. "Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me" (Ps 88:15-16). The Psalmist confesses that God's wrath has overtaken him and that God was the cause of His terror. God is assaulting him. Even when we are quite certain in the midst of our suffering that our only source of salvation is our Lord, we question Him and demand to know why He seems so slow in bringing rescue.

 

Salvation never arrives according to our timetable. "Why, O LORD, do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble" (Ps 10:1)? And especially under the worst circumstances we feel acutely the apparent apathy of God. We become impatient of cheery clergy offering up pieties of no value to us in our deep suffering: "Everything will turn out. Chin up. Hang in there." Such a sufferer will be tempted to rebuke me: "Reverend, there is no way to nice-up suffering. Sometimes we Christians just have to suffer it. You can't be made to feel good all the time (that's the stuff addiction is made of)."

 

Seeing God's back means having God in sight. Even when we push back against Him, when we think He is our enemy, at least then we know He is there. Boundaries are important, even in the dark, even when we can't see them. In hand to hand combat with God (Gn 32:24-26), we will not let Him go until He pronounces His blessing to us. He may leave us limping, because He has pulled our hip from its socket (and this will hurt!), but He tells us what we need, He pronounces His Word to us and in this way He gives Himself to us. Our pain will not mute His speech. In our battle with Him in the corner, He will let us rip His mask from His face and He will appear to us as the crucified God who has long ago borne our suffering on the cross.

 

Martin Luther


 

"Our only solace in the greatest difficulties is to cast all care on the Lord, surrendering ourselves to His decision and will, whether He disciplines us publicly or privately. Let matters take their course. Thank God that you have the Word and the promise. Strive with high courage to be able to sustain and to conquer every assault of Satan, of death, and of tyrants.

 

"Peter strongly commends that zeal for, and faith in, the Word when he says: 'We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts' (2Pt 1:19). He comannds us to direct our eyes and acumen of mind upon the Word alone, on Baptism, on the Lord's Supper, and on absolution, and to regard all other things as darkness. I do not understand, nor do I care about, what is done in this world by the sons of this age; because they crucify me. I cannot escape or take away that horrible mask which hides the face of God, but I must hold fast in darkness and in deepest obscurity until a new light shines forth.

 

"Thus Jacob and Joseph had the saddest sight set before their eyes and hearts. But with what great joy God shows them His back! Thus the affliction and ruin of their descendants in Egypt were most wretched, but the end of their trial was most glorious. Paul stated so beautifully, 'God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it' (1Co 10:13), that one becomes joyful."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 45.5
 
Prayer

Lord Christ, turn Your face to me that I might see You as a crucified God when I am suffering. Amen.

 

For the family of Rachel Hunt, whom our Lord Jesus took to be with Him, that they would grieve in the hope of the resurrection and the life of the world to come

 

For the family of Diane Demro, who passed from death into life, that they might be comforted by the good Shepherd's care of His lambs

 

For all newly elected political candidates, that they might be strengthened to say and do what is honorable and to the benefit of our communities
Art: Annunciation Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, Julius (1818)

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