Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Have you ever found yourself in a place that called for a response but circumstances or propriety dictated that none be made?  You are caught in a situation wherein any move leaves you worse off.  Chess players refer to this as zugzwang: any legal move weakens your position; you want to take a pass.  These moments will happen in life.  Any retaliatory action will work against us, leaving the only possible response—walk away.

Admittedly, non-action is frustrating.  Men, more so than women, have a natural desire for action to fix the problem or make it better.  We do not want to let a matter alone.  King David wrote about such a time in his life when he was being wronged.  The unknown situation demanded a rebuke, yet propriety and piety dictated silence: raising his voice would most certainly lead to sin (Ps 39:1).  Stymied and frustrated, he bottled up everything until it could no longer be contained:
I was mute and silent;
    I held my peace to no avail,
and my distress grew worse.
    My heart became hot within me.  (Ps 39:2-3a)
If you are anything like me, you have felt this fire boiling inside.  The internal pressure rises until you burst, causing damage to yourself and those around by our words giving evidence to what Jesus taught: “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matt 15:11), so that
we are defiled when we say whatever happens to be on our mind and we talk about things that we should not talk about, even though our lips are bound “with perception” and we should make for them “a measuring balance and a standard of measure.”  The spring of sins comes to us from such talking.*
David needed a safety valve to release which came in the form of prayer—not for vindication or retribution, but for the unexpected:
O Lᴏʀᴅ, make me know my end
    and what is the measure of my days;
    let me know how fleeting I am!
David prays for perspective, a view of this life compared to eternity.  He wants the Lord to help him understand what Paul would write to the church in Corinth:
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,…  (2 Co 4:17)
The circumstances we endure are painful for a season, but this life is but a passing moment in comparison to what awaits us in Jesus.  Yes, things become heated.  Yes, attempting to look past events drives us to anger, depression, or any number of other emotions.  But when we seek this affliction in God’s perspective for our individual lives, we are better able
to learn how much time [is] left …, and thus gain consolation in the troubles by projecting my thinking to life’s end, when I would have complete relief from the troubles.†
With the fleeting nature of this life in view, David turns his attention to the Lord for delivery from the blows of discipline being felt.  Either the entire difficulty had been brought on by David’s past sin, he was concerned that he might fall into the sin he wished to avoid.  Whatever the reason, he knows what is needed and seeks relief (Ps 39:7-11), ending with a plea that the Lord would hear and respond by turning His scrutinizing eye away, because the attention is painful.
Hear my prayer, O Lᴏʀᴅ,
    and give ear to my cry;
    hold not your peace at my tears!
For I am a sojourner with you,
    a guest, like all my fathers.
Look away from me, that I may smile again,
    before I depart and am no more!  (Ps 39:12-13)
All men are but sojourners in this life, and the king recognizes that he and his fathers are no more privileged in this regard.  Theodoret paraphrases David’s request:
I beseech you, Lord, hearken to my lament and tearful supplication: I do not dwell in the land but am a stranger, and like my forebears I shall accept death after living here a short time.  So grant me a brief respite so that I may live at least a few days without pain before departing this life.  Once I go I shall not return: I shall not return to this corrupt life.‡
When we find ourselves in a situation similar to David’s in which one or more stress factors are bearing upon us, we turn to the Lord and rely on Him for understanding and strength.  Afflictions in this life wear on everybody, but Christians have a promise of a final rest in Christ.  Our hope is certain.

*  Origen of Alexandria, Commentary on Matthew
†  Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on Psalm 39 
‡  Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on Psalm 39 

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