Safe haven

Sometimes, we pray to God for help. It can be as simple as that: “Help!” Or it can be longer and more complicated, as we walk through the whole mix of emotions that come from being needy and at wit’s end. We may feel hard-pressed and alone in our suffering, wondering why this is happening, wondering what we can ask of God, wondering where he is and what he will do.

In recent posts, we’ve been working our way outward from the structural center of Psalm 25, where the psalmist professes confidently that God is gracious to those who have been humbled by life and depend on his guidance (vs. 9-10). One step outward from that profession, surrounding it like an envelope, is a prayer for mercy in the face of his own sin (vss. 6-8, 11). Surrounding that is a prayer for wisdom (vss. 4-5, 12-14), to be taught God’s path and know the blessings of his covenant. And surrounding that is the prayer for help that begins and ends the psalm: Don’t let be shamed; save me from being trapped, powerless, and alone.

But despite being set upon by enemies who hate him violently (vs. 19) and are being treacherous (vs. 3), there is still a positive note in the psalm: the prayer begins and ends in trust.

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust …

O guard my life, and deliver me;
    do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
    for I wait for you.
(vss. 1-2a, 20-21, NRSV)

The psalmist begins by lifting up his soul to God. “Soul” is a bit of an abstract term in English; a better translation of the Hebrew would be that the psalmist lifts up his very life, his being, to God, as if offering it up with his hands raised to the heavens.

He does so in a spirit of “trust.” The word is actually a synonym for the later word “refuge.” The first word suggests that the psalmist knows he can go to God as a place of shelter and safety; the second suggests that sometimes he needs to run there.

It reminds me of what child psychologists would call the “safe haven.” It’s natural for children to want to explore their world. But sometimes, the world can be a dangerous and frightening place. What kids need are parents who can be depended upon to comfort them when they’re feeling hurt and scared, someone who will scoop them up and soothe them when they come running.

God, in that sense, is the psalmist’s safe haven; that is the element of trust that brackets the psalm.

We might also hear an echo of the worldview with which we began back in Psalm 1: there is a right way and a wrong way to live. The right way depends on following God’s instruction and goes by the name of righteousness and wisdom. The alternative is wickedness and foolishness. And the psalms promise that God watches over those who follow the way of righteousness (e.g., Ps 1:6).

But what happens when life doesn’t look like that? What happens when you think you’ve been doing what God wants, and life still seems upside-down?

“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” This echoes what the psalmist has already said in verses 4 and 5: “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” This is the psalmist’s way of saying: I’m trying to do things your way, Lord. I believe in your teaching, and trust you will continue to guide me. Who else can save me? So please don’t let those who wait for you be ashamed (vs. 3)! Things are topsy-turvy and I need your help. In faith, in trust, I wait.

This is what faith is about. It’s hard to wait for God to act when everything seems wrong. It’s hard to continue to trust when things seem so out of kilter for so long. Can we really trust God to be our safe haven?

Let’s think about that together in the next post.