Discover more from Ben Simpson's Faith & Formation Newsletter
Psalm 4: A Confident Cry
An Example: Call, Trust, Be Silent, and Rest
When we experience trouble, we cry out. It makes all the difference in the world when we know our cry will be heard, and our needs will be met.
In our relationship with God, every occasion of trouble is an opportunity for trust. And trust must be learned. This learning occurs in trial. It doesn’t have to. But we don’t grow in comfort. So, trials come. God is proven when we are tested. As we gain experience with God through trial, we gain confidence. We discover God is worthy of our trust. This is confirmed, through trial, by trusting.
Psalm 4 begins with a cry, “Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.” The psalmist has experience with God. The psalmist lays claim to God’s covenantal love. There is a relationship there, a binding. When the psalmists asks for an answer, one is expected. God is a God who hears and answers the cry. God is a God who remembers and keeps the divine promises, the covenant. The psalmist has been in trouble before, and has found deliverance. The plea is for grace. The prayer is a petition for help.
The psalmist is under attack, and their reputation has been called into question: “How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?” Maybe you know the feeling. The psalmist is confident of preservation, sure of the One to whom they belong, and believes that God will hear their prayer: “But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.”
If we find ourselves in similar circumstances, unsettled by opposition, attacked unjustly, targeted by gossip, smeared and defamed in the eyes of others, how does the psalmist invite us to respond? What is modeled?
First, being still. The psalmist writes, “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.” Refrain from sin. Contemplate your circumstances. Trials teach us things, about God, about others, about ourselves. Close your mouth. Utter not a sound.
Second, sacrifice. The psalmist writes, “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.” Christian people do not need to offer goats, grain, sheep, or bulls. Christ is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. But for the psalmist, to sacrifice was an exhortation to worship, to turn toward God and to demonstrate trust through action. It was also an invitation to seek God’s atonement for sin. When we are attacked, we are tempted to take matters in our own hands, to mount our own defense, to justify ourselves. But with God, we have a strong defender, a position of security, and the assurance of justification and of grace.
The psalmist concludes with an exclamation: “There are many who say, ‘O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!’ You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.” The human heart longs for abundance. God meets that longing, not only with respect to our physical needs, but with spiritual filling and renewal. God not only gives us what we need. God gives us himself. If we have him, we lack nothing.
In a closing, Psalm 4:8 declares, “I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” No matter the trouble, life in the kingdom of God is one of eternal peace and rest.
In Christ, our cry has been heard, and our deepest needs met. That makes all the difference in this world, and in the world to come.
I finished James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky’s Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Nature of Morality. I wrapped up E. K. Strawser’s Centering Discipleship and Eugene Peterson’s Traveling Light. I turned the last page in two very different novels: Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem and Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers. In the evenings, I’m reading Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Liu’s Three-Body Problem is a science fiction story that is profound, beautifully written and unsettling in its treatment of human nature. The narrative spans decades. The characters are, primarily, Chinese. The story begins during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. It ends decades later, after a transmission from Earth has been received by an alien civilization in a nearby galaxy. This civilization, technologically superior to our own, does not share humanity’s ethics or understanding of existence. Their planet is unstable, orbiting in relationship to multiple suns, not just one. Thus, weather conditions are unpredictable, as is the climate. When suns draw near simultaneously, everything is scorched. When suns grow distant from the surface, harsh winter arrives. Gravitational forces wreak havoc on the surface. You can imagine the cultural effects—the hardness, cruelty, and monomania, the focus on survival, the coldness and detachment from other beings, the lack of leisure and security to pursue and produce art and beauty. You can also understand why, upon learning of the stability of Earth, this civilization would launch an invasion force. In this story, one human being, harmed by the cruelties they experienced early in life at the hands of a totalitarian regime, issues an invitation to an alien civilization to bring destruction to Earth by blasting a high powered radio signal into space. They hear, and are glad to oblige.
Three-Body Problem is the first in a series of novels. I’ll continue thinking about this novel, but I don’t intend to continue reading the series, at least not now. Liu makes a statement in the postscript that has stuck in my mind: we should not assume that an alien civilization would be benevolent, therefore, it might be better for our planet to keep quiet. Our longings for connection should be turned those who inhabit our planet, who belong to our people, and we should do everything in our power to relate to one another, across nations and cultures, in love, kindness, and understanding. This is a humanist ideal, noble, but very difficult to achieve, as history has shown. Three-Body shows the destructive powers of hate, not only by bringing two planetary civilizations into conflict. Liu shows how human cruelty begets more cruelty, and how our own self-loathing can lead us to invite, accelerate, and collude with forces that will bring about our own doom.
Why did I like this novel? Because it makes the reader look squarely at aspects of human experience and human nature we know are real but would rather deny: we’re alienated, we wound one another, we have self-destructive tendencies, and we are all in need of deep healing. Humanity’s disposition is incurvatus in se. We need rescue, from ourselves.
On a very different note, I’m revisiting Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ and I’m reading Craig A. Hefner’s Kierkegaard and the Changelessness of God: A Modern Defense of Classical Immutability. I hope to finish these books before the school year kicks off.
Sights and Sounds
David and I finished Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008). I loved it. The story is good. The animation is what I found to be most delightful, particularly the use of color.
Over the past few weeks I’ve watched Jackie Brown (1997), Conan the Barbarian (1982), and comedy specials featuring Dana Carvey, David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Jim Gaffigan. Dark Pale is great. But the best one featured Steve Martin and Martin Short, or, contractually, Martin Short and Steve Martin, entitled An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life. Absolutely brilliant.
Lastly, the August music playlist is up.
Before I go, standard copy.
If you are receiving this newsletter in your email inbox, great! If you are a reader who comes my way via social media but you'd like to subscribe, subscribe here.
I’m not checking those accounts, but content does push there. If you use social media as your news feed, follow there. Share my stuff, if you like. Maybe those services are for you. They are not for me. I’ve been a happier and less anxious person since I quit checking social media.
Publishers consider social media numbers when extending offers or invites to write. Likes, follows, etc. help a person like me make their way. Lastly, subscribe to the blog by submitting your email to the "Updates to Your Inbox" form in the sidebar. We're at 1,381 across platforms. Help me get to 1,500+.
That's the business.
If you like this post, click the heart and kindly share it with others. If you’re coming my way because someone shared this with you, subscribe.
Be well this week. Bless others.
P.S. - It’s hot in Texas, but that’s not news. I live here. Took a stroll by the Immortal Ten. Even these guys were sweating.