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Living Psalm 30

“When I felt secure, I said, ‘I will never be shaken.’ O LORD, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed” (Psalm 30:7, NIV).

“Dismayed” is translated from the original Hebrew word, “bahal,” meaning “to inwardly tremble or palpitate.” In the Hebrew, “favored me” would be better rendered “delighted in me.” “When I felt secure” also has a meaning close to “in my prosperity.”

Who among us never thought the same thing in our times of prosperity and security? “I am prosperous, successful, and got it made.” The psalm gives Yahweh credit for making the writer’s mountain firm. God allowed that prosperity. So we pray thanks for our meals and bank accounts and promising future.

Then, surprise! God “hides His face” (but note He is still present) and we are trembling to the core. Is this also not a shared experience among so many of us? Those who have been thus far spared from this experience are not immune to it happening.

The hiding of God’s face is from our perspective. It is our experience. God does not play hide and seek with us. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:1-3a, NIV).

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4, NIV).

Through His prophets, His Incarnation in Christ, or by the heavens that declare the glory of God and proclaim the work of His hands, God’s face is always visible in all circumstances.

Prosperity and good times induce some of us to seek God’s face in gratitude. They also result in many forgetting about God, too self-consumed to think about the Source of all good.

The news media brings to our daily attention so many people who suddenly encounter confusion and anguish. Earthquakes, fires, accidental injuries, and especially the death of loved ones are devastating losses. In just a minute or less, the courses of lives are redirected as well as the way we view the meaning of our lives. We exclaim through our tears, “God, why do you hide your face? Where are you in all this?!”

Ignorant conclusions often follow. “God took your loved one to be home with Him in a better place.” Despite what Job said, often quoted out of context, “The LORD gives and He takes away,” Satan, evil, did the taking, not God.

Moreover, Jesus instructed how He will make His home within us, here on earth. Though we yearn for our heavenly home as St. Paul did, he and the other teachers were clear in proclaiming that whether on earth or in the heavens, we can be home in Him. That home is our refuge during the storms in our earthly lives.

God hears our cries to see His face in suffering and devastation. “To you, O LORD, I called; to the LORD I cried for mercy: ‘What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit?’ Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help’” (v. 9-10).

In Hebrew, “the pit” is a reference to a cistern, deep hole, dungeon or some kind of prison. “The dust” references the dirt or mud of that place of captivity. In this cry for help and mercy is the implied promise to praise and proclaim His faithfulness should the writer receive the help. This sounds like the familiar bargaining so many people do with God: “O Lord, do this and then I will do that.”

The attempt to cut a deal with God betrays either profound ignorance of who He is or profound arrogance in who we think we are. I am reminded of a story. A woman was in anguish over the seemingly hopeless condition of disease in her son that was progressively leading to his death. She approached her spiritual advisor for prayer and guidance. He told her another story of another woman encountering a similar situation. That mother prayed for divine mercy and, in return, she committed herself to not only the care of her son, but the care of other sick children. She devoted her energy to acts of mercy, as she prayed for mercy for herself and her son. Her son was fully healed. In gratitude, she continued her devotion to acts of mercy, but she had also told God she would continue her devotion even if her son died. She did not bargain with God. She offered unconditional self-sacrifice. The woman excitedly told her advisor, “Then I’ll do the same thing and God will heal my child.” He responded, “No, it does not work that way. You see, that mother never heard her own story. She created it.”

We know the psalmist was not bargaining with God, for he begins with genuine gratitude: “I will exalt you, O LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O LORD, my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O LORD, you brought me up from the grave, you spared me from going down into the pit. Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name” (v. 1-4).

The psalmist also remarks, “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (v. 5b). I cherish metaphors of the morning and love to “awaken the dawn” as written in Psalm 57. Dawn, to me, is a more profound and mystical time in reality and in metaphor. Early dawn holds in itself the elements of the night and all that it may represent, such as the weeping, the longing, the dark shadows of the soul. Early dawn is salted with the promise of resurrection, cleansing, a new beginning. As the dawn progresses into morning, the saltiness of these promises grow into a manifestation of them, and the rising sun renders clarity to the world, fully destroying the elements of the night. Dawn holds the remembrance of our struggles and suffering as well as being the gateway to renewal.

“Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God. My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God?” (Psalm 42:1-2).

“’I am far removed from your sight,’ I said in my alarm. Yet you heard the voice of my plea when I cried for help” (Psalm 31:22).

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever” (Psalm 30:11-12).

How many of us lived this experience as well? I did, and will most likely live it again during these earthly storms. Peter woke the sleeping Jesus during a physical storm on the sea. “Master, look, don’t you see we are about to drown?” I picture Jesus being in no hurry to wake up. Maybe He opened one eye then the other, quietly remarking, “You of little faith.” Then He called out to the storm, “Be still!” The sudden stillness must have been more awesome and fear inducing than that of the storm itself. This He does for life storms also, we of little faith. “O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.” Literally.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
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