Today’s passage: Psalm 39
Today’s chocolate: Endangered Species dark chocolate with sea salt & almonds
If you’re anything like me, you consider what you say carefully. You ensure that you can trust people before you open up to them; until you drop your guard, every conversation is an experimental trial to see what you can safely share with whom. You gather data and run simulations in your head of possible conversations, testing for optimal outcomes. And you try to make your goal to say the right thing, the thing that is of greatest benefit rather than the thing that makes the most people like you and best hides your faults. But it’s tough. So you don’t speak much. And sometimes you keep it bottled up inside until you feel like you can’t hold it in anymore, and you’ve got to open the floodgates.
This psalm is David not holding it in anymore. This psalm is David opening the floodgates.
David makes up his mind to guard his words because he doesn’t want to sin. But when he doesn’t say anything, it keeps him from saying anything good, and the pressure mounts. Finally, he writes, “My heart was hot within me; while I was musing the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue” (3). And the next word out of his mouth? Lord. YHWH, the tetragrammaton. When he absolutely must speak, he turns to God.
And the first thing on his mind is how empty everyone is. “Surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (5) he declares. “Surely every man walks about as a phantom” (6). The video game Suikoden is one of my favorite video games, and there’s a quote from the opening: “Even at his most powerless, man’s existence is never without meaning.” To which David might respond: “Yeah, but it doesn’t mean much.” Faced with the all-powerful, universe-creating God who’s been here from the beginning and seen countless generations rise and fall, what little good or evil we might do in a lifetime seems insignificant.
Faced with such a God, despite the precautions of his silence, David cannot help but admit that he has sinned. Echoing themes from Psalm 38, he prays,
Deliver me from all my transgressions;
Make me not the reproach of the foolish.
…Remove Your plague from me;
Because of the opposition of Your hand I am perishing. (8, 10)
As before, he considers the afflictions of his physical health to be God’s judgment for his sin, and feels the weight of God’s hand upon his body and conscience. He’s also concerned that the foolish might consider his pursuit of righteousness worthless if he does good only for God to let his enemies win.
Strangely, he ends the psalm with a plea for the Lord to ignore him. He tells God: “Turn Your gaze away from me, that I may smile again before I depart and am no more” (13). God is the first person David turns to when he’s kept silent to the point of bursting. He puts his hope in God (7) and can trust him with thoughts that he keeps from everyone else. And he finally tells him, “Look away from me?” As if his only hope for happiness before he dies is for God to stop paying attention to him? It’s a downer ending–but sometimes in life our songs end on a minor chord.
And sometimes it wouldn’t an honest song if it didn’t.