Confronting Psalm 63 during the Coronavirus Crisis

– By Jonathan Kopke.

I wonder if Solomon was in the seventh week of a pandemic stay-at-home order when he wrote the opening paragraph of Ecclesiastes:

The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again.  The wind blows south, and then turns north.  Around and around it goes, blowing in circles.  Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full.  Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea.  Everything is wearisome beyond description.[1]

I’m thinking that Solomon may have written that right after he’d streamed the sixty-seventh episode of some mindless Australian TV show from the Web.  “’Everything is meaningless,’ says the Teacher, ‘completely meaningless!’”[2]

Sometimes lately, everything has seemed meaningless.  The coronavirus lock-down has kicked out from under us many of the things that always seemed to give us satisfaction.  Some of those things weren’t too great to begin with, of course.  Call them “idols” if you want to — things that take the place of God in our lives.  But now, if we ever did depend on things like investments to give us a sense of security, we’ve seen the coronavirus dismantle our security in a week.  If we ever did find any solace in “comfort food,” the coronavirus has cut our rations.  And if we ever did manage to cheer ourselves up by going shopping, that’s not going to work now that every other shopper looks like a bandito who might be spewing contagion through her homemade mask.  It’s not that there was ever anything evil about investments or food or shopping.  It’s just that God “searches the heart and examines the mind.”[3]  And it has to be a disappointment to God when he sees that our hearts are looking to something other than him for security or comfort or cheer.  But Jesus said it’s the “poor In spirit” — the people who’ve run out of substitutes for God — who’ll receive the Kingdom of Heaven.  So maybe we should thank the coronavirus for bankrupting us in that way.

But that’s just the beginning of what the coronavirus lock-down has taken away.  It’s also kicked some of our most godly footings out from under us.  Like work, for example.  There was work in Eden before the Fall.  Work is a gift from God.  Whether it’s paid work or volunteer work, it’s what gives our days purpose.  And now the coronavirus has separated many of us from our work.

And then there’s fellowship.  “The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”[4]  But now, for some of us, our only fellowship is with the people we pass on the sidewalk who smile at us with a strange combination of camaraderie and dread as they cross to the other side of the street.

Yes, we know God is still with us, no matter what.  But sometimes it feels like we’ve been reduced to life in a too-small goldfish bowl without so much as a plastic castle to swim through.  And that’s when we realize that, in that bowl, not even life itself is secure.  The coronavirus can take that away too.

All we really want is to feel secure and purposeful again.  And it’s awfully unsettling when what God seems to offer isn’t security and purpose, but his presence in our insecurity and in our lack of purpose.  The Bible even suggests that we should be content with knowing only that God’s “unfailing love is better than life itself.”[5]

I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t recite that particular verse with any real conviction.  And I certainly can’t lead anybody else where I’ve never gone myself.  But it seems like we have a golden opportunity right now to venture into this unexplored territory together — to see just how much we can trust that God’s unfailing love will indeed be better than life itself.  And the logical place to start that exploration would be in Psalm 63, the psalm where that declaration appears.  Here’s how that psalm starts in the New Living Translation:

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you.

So we can pray:  Lord, this isn’t just a word game for us.  We’re “earnestly” searching for you because we’re trapped in a woebegone situation that we’ve never had to deal with before.  And who else could we turn to?  You alone have the words of eternal life.[6]

My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land where there is no water.

Lord, we’re in a “parched and weary land” alright.  Most of what we’ve ever depended on has dried up.  And after seven weeks of this, we’re weary of being parched.

I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.

Lord, we’ve had glimpses of your power and glory in the past, and we have to admit that they’ve almost always come at the most unlikely times.  Your power always seems to come into its own right when we’re at our weakest.[7]  And that’s where we are again, right now.

Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you!

To tell you the truth, Lord, we’re not sure we can say that your unfailing love is better to us than life.  But we want to be able to say that.  And maybe you can work with just that much.

I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night.

Lord, we remember that when you watch over your chosen people, you never get tired or fall asleep.[8]  So if we can’t sleep, we’ll know that you’re right next to us and paying attention to us all night long.

Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.

That’s another hiding image, isn’t it, Lord: hiding like a helpless little chick under the warm wings of the mother hen.  And Lord Jesus, we remember that you said, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”[9]  Well this time is different, Lord.  We’ll let you now.

I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.

Lord Jesus, we don’t know what to expect next, and we’re not even sure what to ask for.  But we do know that you understand our weaknesses, because you’ve faced all the same tests that we do.  So we run boldly to your strong right hand to receive your mercy, and to find grace — undeserved favor — to help us when we need it most.[10]

Jon has been modeling praying the words of Scripture in his last two reflections.  In this one, not just responding in prayer to the words of Psalm 63, but responding with words, phrases and images from Scripture.  (That’s what the footnotes are all about.)   Think about your own favorite passage of scripture (or the one you know best).  How might you pray those words back to God?  

[1] Ecclesiastes 1:5-8 nlt

[2] Ecclesiastes 1:2 nlt

[3] Jeremiah 17:10 paraphrased

[4] The hymn “Blessed Be The Tie That Binds” by John Fawcett

[5] Psalm 63:3 nlt

[6] John 6:68 paraphrased

[7] 2 Corinthians 12:9 paraphrased

[8] Psalm 121:4 paraphrased

[9] Matthew 23:37 nlt

[10] Hebrews 4:15-16 paraphrased

One Comment

  1. John; Thanks for your words again and do appreciate you taking time to put them on the web for our help . A few weeks ago we used your words in our session meeting .I really miss seeing you and Jane Sundays but at this point we are thankful for what and where we our .When I start to feel bored I go out on our deck and listen and watch the birds at our feeders and think how lucky we really are. Thanks again and GOD BLESS you two till we see you again. Ben & Donna

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