Love this psalm.
It’s the Qui Habitat we sometimes read during Compline. And I like the Anglicized version found in the Book of Common Prayer more than the lectionary version, despite all the male-centric and individualized language. After cracking this open to be applicable to all people, not just an ancient Palestinian regional king, we can read it as a prayer.
In verses 14-16, God speaks in first person. When I first read this psalm and realized that was happening, it felt strange. It was odd to speak as God talking about me (the “he” being any given person). It was odder to conceptualize being bound in love.
“Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my Name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I am with him in trouble; I will rescue him and bring him to honor. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”
Binding and loving usually have an unhealthy relationship. Think of the overprotective parents who smother their children to the point that they become incapable of caring for themselves or feel it necessary to drastically break free. To imagine that I could be bound to God, whether in love or something else, makes me feel a bit claustrophobic.
Our lectionary translation drops the “Because he is bound to me in love” in exchange for “Those who love me, I will deliver.” Many other translations phrase it as “Because he has set his love upon me.” Those translations seem to be closer to the original Hebrew word חָ֭שַׁק (ḥā·šaq), which means “has loved.” Those who have loved God will be delivered.
So here’s a question. What is deliverance? What is salvation? What does it look like?
If it meant what we really want it to mean—that God will undo the bad things that happen or are happening to us—than we must admit that the psalm is just plain wrong. If it meant that only to the king and his enemies, then it is still wrong because I’m 99% certain that the king is dead; there is no peace in any kingdom in that general region, either.
We can place a Christianese bandage over this bleeding scripture wound and say, “God is with us as we go through the tough stuff,” or “God weeps with us,” or “We’ll go to a better place with God after this life,” but the first two assertions tell us very little (though they may be true), and the third assertion claims something we can’t know and can only hope for.
If this life is only about hoping for the next one, why bother? Why would God bother becoming incarnate at all? If it’s only to help us cope with life, then I don’t want any part of it.
I wonder if the mystery of salvation is how it can happen in the midst of and through the tough stuff. The days of our lives (cue soap opera music) have to count for more than simply trying to achieve salvation through love. And our devotion to God has to be more than a coping mechanism.
What if God is intricately involved in our lives, not delivering our bodies from harm or psyches from trauma but always freeing us from the bonds of worry and fear?
Sometimes I imagine God as a child clinging to my leg. Being bound to God in love is an entirely appropriate, though linguistically incorrect, way of describing how God is united to every event of our lives, even unto death itself. And much as the way the laughter or playfulness or love of children can rescue us from taking the world too seriously, God rescues us from worrying about the ultimate consequences of our hardships.
The Rev. Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church. He blogs for St. James’s every Wednesday, offering reflections on the readings of scripture from the upcoming Sunday.
Into the Fire is a weekly contribution to the creative and imaginative process of interpreting the black and white fire of Scripture. Using an adapted process of Midrash, the author includes historical/cultural information, personal anecdotes, and other theologians’ ruminations on selected passages from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings. All are welcome to journey into the fire by using the comment sections on the blog itself, or on Facebook or Tumblr.