In what way does God really protect us, from what is God able to keep us safe?
Psalm Reading: Psalm 91
For Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010: Year C - Ordinary 26
A twenty-first century American president is not the corollary of a B.C.E Palestinian regional king. Nor is that kingdom in any meaningful way similar to the contemporary Untied States of America. Like, for instance, we don’t have our own god that claims our country as its children or to whom the country claims allegiance. So in a biblical reading like Psalm 91, one would have to do a lot of exegetical gymnastics to find in it a witness to the Word of God.
It’s Good to be King
This week’s psalm is a royal composition of trust and protection. The king is enthroned in the shelter of the Most High, and as a result enjoys the protection of his god, from every kind of danger. No one will be able to sneak up and attack him at night; the archer’s arrows won’t reach him during the day. Thousands will die around him, but he will be just fine. To quote Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the king!”
This psalm of reassurance and comfort does neither for me. The notion of a god that is on the side of a particular political power gives me the theological heebie-jeebies. Of course, I can understand the cultural context of the writing, and without too much of a back bend open the words of the psalmist to all people—I can apply them to me. I like that a little better. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation. It is something that I want out of a god. A protector. I want a really big guy who promises to answer my call when I am in trouble.
But, I really am very rarely in any physical danger. That is not true for a large group of people who don’t have the kind of privilege that I do, who live in countries ruled by despots or occupied by forgiven armies. I would gladly let them use my god for a while. But as long as I am going to apply these words written for the B.C.E King to myself, I can go one step further and take all the military imagery as metaphorical. I may not be in need of a big guy to protect me from physical attack, but I do need other kinds of help. I feel despair, doubt, fear, worry, sadness, and shame. When the plague of anxiety is at my tent will my god promise to keep it from me?
The Hardest Question
Scripture has long served to give comfort, peace, reassurance. Prayers of intercession are a regular part of many faiths. But my hardest question for this text is, in what way does God really protect us, from what is God able to keep us safe?