The central theme of this psalm, oft-repeated in the Psalms, strikes me: God’s “steadfast love endures forever!”
All of God’s actions described here – from caring for the people of Israel, to hearing the Psalmist’s distressed cries, to being by the Psalmist’s side in trial and joy, to being a refuge greater than any government or wealthy leader could offer, to being the source of this Psalmist’s strength and salvation – flows out of God’s steadfast love.
I remember the statement made by a theology professor, Dr. Martin, when I was an undergraduate at Campbell University. “All of God’s attributes can be seen as expressions of God’s love. God’s omnipotence is not God’s power to do anything God wants but God’s power to do all love requires for us. God’s omnipresence is not just that God is present everywhere but God fulfilling God’s commitment to always be with us out of love.” Dr. Martin went on. At the time, coming from a fundamentalist background of “The Bible says its, that settles it, I believe” this idea sounded strange to my ear. Yet, though I can’t remember word for word what Dr. Martin said, I’ve returned to the essence of those words again and again. The more I come to find the heart of God revealed in my life, the more I join the Psalmist in realizing it is all about love.
For me this has become a lens by which I judge theology. So often the picture of God painted by the church is of a God less loving than one’s parent, one’s spouse, one’s child, — even one’s dog or cat! – would be. I remember as a chaplain and pastor setting with people who went through the death of someone they loved to suicide, as they lamented for their theology told them this person had to be in hell yet they knew they only took their life because they were very very emotionally sick, not because they were bad people. They would say they love them so much and cannot bear the thought of hell. Though it is not my place to tell them what to believe in such moments, I often would find a way to ask them, “I see you love them so much and it pains you to imagine what God will do to them for their suicide. Let me ask you, do you believe God loves them less than you, or at least as much as you do?” Most people would say that God loves them as much or more, and I would remind them of verses like this one that identify all God does as flowing first and foremost out of God’s love, suggesting that though I cannot say what lies beyond for their departed loved one so tragically pulled from their life, I can say that whatever lies ahead is prepared for them out of a love God has for that loved one that is stronger than their own, not weaker. Though I rarely say this to folks in that moment, I have to say for me the idea of a retributive God, quick to seek punishment and quick to torture people forever seems to fly in the face of this Psalm’s picture of a God whose actions flow to us out of this heart of steadfast love.
So often we live our lives motivated by fear. We fear rejection. We fear failure. We see something new coming around the corner of our life’s journey and ready ourselves for disaster. We do this because of messages the world has sent us over the years that it is all up to us or that at the center of life there is an unkindness haunting our days. Yet if this Psalm is true, this is not the case. Though troubles may come, around the corner is also blessing & the strength to bear up against all life’s challenges. For at the center, the very heartbeat of existence, is a heart beating with love for you. A heart longing for your good. A heart never swerving from its commitment to your full flourishing and the full flourishing of all you love. A heart that is in love with each person, each creature, and all life on this good earth.
May your eyes be open, your heart awakened, to this love that ever embraces your days.
Your progressive redneck preacher,