Christianity 201

October 9, 2019

As Often as Fear Knocks, The Lord is Near

Today we’re back again at The Serener Bright, and writer Ian Graham. Click the title below to read this at source where Ian posts periodically through the Psalms.

Psalm 34: Weathered Hope

Psalm 34 is the testimony of a weathered, God-facing life. Its fine-wine wisdom, aged and oaken, each note bearing witness to years, disappointments, but ultimately the triumph of a long and loving obedience in the same direction. David begins with his resolution:

I will bless the Lord at all times (v. 3).

This seems like the naive proclamations of over-eager youth. But as we will see, this promise has gray hair and experience. This is not a decision that has been made in a fleeting moment but the accumulated awareness of what it means to live life looking to God with radiant, expectant, unashamed eyes (v. 5). This proclamation is not a conversation that David began, it’s an answering word, a response to steadfast and unfailing love, of a man who knows that God not only can save him but also actually enjoys being in his company.

David then recounts his past:

I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears (v. 4).

David’s not recalling one isolated incident. Think of how fear works. It labors endlessly, it’s never far and its work is never done. But David is here to tell us, as often as the fear comes knocking, as often as the pain of this world shows up with its very real terror and its false gospel of doom and despair, the Lord is always near to the brokenhearted (v. 17). When your spirit is crushed under the agony of anxiety, even if all you can muster is a faint groan, a longing too deep for words and too broken for articulation, the Lord will answer your cry (v. 17).

David doesn’t discount the reality of the fears that faces us. Many of them are venomous, injecting the most bitter poisons of loss, bitterness, and disillusionment. But what he suggests is that those fears are real in the same way a black hole is real. In black holes, gravity accelerates at such a pace that no particles or light can escape. Fear does this too. It traps us in its vortex of nothingness.

But what David proclaims is Gospel. Salvation. God is present even in the places where nothing escapes, he can hear our cry because he is not beyond the black hole of despair, he is right there with us.

David then teaches us a “holy fear” a fear with actual weight to it: the fear of the Lord. The first invitation David offers is simply a practice of the presence of God. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (v. 8). Like any good thing we taste, it perpetuates a longing for more. Fear of the Lord is not a fear that alienates us from God, it aligns us with the rhythms of grace. David then shows us more by offering his second invitation, “Depart from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it” (v. 14). Fear of the Lord is being remade again in his image, excavating the goodness of the architecture of our world, turning from the ways of figs and leaves, of shame and fear, to the abundance of shalom. David says, here, in this way is life. And I know because I’ve seen it all.

Finally, David offers one stern warning and one resounding promise. As David writes, “Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate righteousness will be condemned.” It’s not that God is up in some far-off heaven with his eternal ledger—as we’ve already seen he’s near to the brokenhearted. God is life. His ways are the only way to sustain life. Any way opposed to his is to choose death. Any other way than God’s way folds in on itself. But for those who serve the Lord, who seek his face, and take refuge in his grace, the Lord will redeem your life, there is no condemnation (v.22)

The apostle Paul will later pick up on this echo in his letter to the Romans. In Romans 8, he will write, “Now there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1) and “nothing that can ever separate us from his love.” (Rom. 8vv38-39).

Yes hardship, pain, fear, loss, and ultimately death will come to us all in this life. But David stands as a docent in the museum of grace: in every circumstance, even at our darkest hour, the Lord hears and he rescues (v. 17). Selah.