This Psalm of Asaph is largely a message of distress; anguish over the loss of Jerusalem, the Temple, and a way of life that has disappeared at the hands of conquerors. God has seemingly abandoned His people.
“See how the enemy has destroyed your sanctuary…” (v. 3, NLT)
“They burned down all the places where God was worshipped…” (v. 8, NLT)
“We no longer see your miraculous signs…” (v. 9, NLT)
We, as 21st Century North-American Christians, typically don’t experience this type of loss. By and large, the marginalization we experience, if any at all, is much more of an inconvenience than outright persecution. Perhaps it has less to do with the actions taken against us by political or ideological antagonists, and more with our need to be recognized as having some importance—to know that we have not been relegated to the ‘loser table’ in the lunchroom of moral discourse and/or sociopolitical influence.
We can’t help but lament the thought of ourselves becoming irrelevant. This bothers us, and for good reason—we want to feel as though we have something to bring to the conversation.
It can be difficult for us to imagine ourselves having any ‘mainstream relevance’ when it feels as though the pillars of our faith institutions have begun to crack or even crumble. We feel threatened at the thought of becoming the moral minority in politics. We feel cheated when things we once claimed as “ours” have been co-opted and stripped of the meanings we expect everyone to recognize inherently, as though somehow it makes a dime’s worth of difference that we insist on saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” when Christ is only slightly less of an afterthought at our otherwise self-indulgent holiday gatherings. (Okay, rant over.)
We fear being brushed aside. We fret at the idea of giving an inch, only to lose a mile. For a people that have grown comfortable with being the only game in town, this new reality is unfamiliar territory. And still, the writer of the text manages to find hope in the truth that God is bigger.
“You, O God, are my king from ages past, bringing salvation to the earth…” (v. 12, NLT)
“Both day and night belong to you, you made the starlight and the sun. You set the boundaries of the earth, and you made both summer and winter.” (vv. 16-17, NLT)
God is not limited by boundaries—God sets them. God is boundless.
It is one thing to recognize the power of God’s hand when we have visible signs of ‘all we have accomplished,’ as though we are in need of trophies to prove our efforts worthwhile. It is quite another to know that God is with us, in control, and capable of accomplishing His will when the spotlight is not upon us, when no one has asked for our opinion—to know that God’s covenant to us is not so easily broken as the stone palaces we erect in His name. God is bigger than our enemies. But more importantly, God is bigger than us.
We can live in this reality, because God is here also. God functions outside the palaces and prefectures that we have established, and is actively at work through the actions of His people—big or small. This is Good News. This is where we should find our rest.