The view from above (part 2)

Earlier this summer, I had the joy of spending a couple of weeks with my son, daughter-in-law, and beautiful, toddling granddaughter. She was not quite 15 months old at the time, and because of the pandemic, it was only the second opportunity since her birth I had had to spend time with her. But she quickly got used to the idea that her “Papa” would pick her up and carry her around any time she came to him with upturned face and outstretched arms.

Suffice it to say that I carried her around a lot (which gave me plenty of opportunity to keep planting kisses on that little head).

Ever active and curious, she’s not content to sit in a corner and play by herself. She wants to be where the action is, to touch, to explore, to experiment with everything she sees. And she wants to be picked up, not because she wants to be cuddled, but because she wants to see all the interesting things up on the countertops — to her, a whole host of potential toys. (Why spend so much money on fancy kid toys? She has as much fun with the box…)

The world looks different from just a few feet higher off the ground.

Imagine how things look from heaven.

. . .

When we were small, we had a very limited view of the world. We wanted things, but couldn’t reach them, or weren’t allowed to have them. We had to learn to deal with repeated frustration without being able to understand the reason for it. We handled the frustration best if we had parents who were patient with us, who set limits without anger.

As we grew and matured, our understanding increased. But that doesn’t mean we never got frustrated, then or now. Sometimes, our inner toddler just wants to rant and rave about how unfair the world is. Hopefully, as adults, we’re able to step back, get a little perspective, and calm down.

Hopefully. I mean, miracles happen, right?

Parents see the world differently than their children do (and grandparents differently from parents!). Ideally, if we’ve learned from our experiences, we can see the bigger picture and respond more wisely.

And sometimes, the better part of wisdom is to apologize for the lack of it.

. . .

Faithfulness, as portrayed in Psalm 59, entails trusting in the faithful covenant love of God, who is our strength and refuge. Though we are surrounded by trouble, though we are threatened by enemies, God is able to set us high in a mountainous stronghold, from which we can gaze down on the challenges from above.

In the situation I described in recent posts, I had lost perspective and had become resentful and angry at a situation that I misinterpreted. My frustration with the chaos of the pandemic bubbled over in a way that spread strife instead of peace. I was chagrined to learn how badly I had misread the situation, and even more chagrined to notice myself trying to deny how wrong I had been. But by the grace of God — and only by the grace of God — I was able to take a few steps back mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and apologize for my behavior. Trust me, that’s not something I do easily.

God gave me the perspective I needed to see the situation rightly.

I wonder: could that be our place of refuge?

. . .

The Psalms are full of vivid words of praise for God’s deliverance from trouble. Such deliverance is taken as evidence of God’s trustworthiness and steadfast love. The flip side of this, though, is that we might read the Psalms as promises that God will deliver us from any and every trouble. And if he doesn’t, does that mean that the steadfast love of God is nothing but a sham? Or that we’re just not praying hard enough or with enough faith?

Not every prayer for deliverance in the Psalms is answered, at least within the context of the psalm itself. And many of the psalms lament the seeming silence and absence of God: How long must I wait for answer, God? Wake up! See what’s happening! Do something about it! Sometimes, God shows up before the psalm ends. Sometimes, the psalmist continues to trust, however feebly, despite God’s continued silence.

And sometimes, the psalm simply ends in darkness, with despair dominating over a strained hope.

Given this, we cannot take statements of deliverance in the Psalms as personal promises. To trust God as our refuge doesn’t necessarily mean that we will be rescued the way we want or on our timetable. As I’ve said before, we could be facing death and plead with God to save us — but sooner or later we must die.

And the biblical answer to that dilemma in the present is not the abolition of suffering and death, but the promise of new life in the future, and a promissory taste of that newness now. Only later, when God’s kingdom is complete, will death and pain be no more.

This is what I learned from Psalm 59, in which the psalmist anticipates rescue but has not yet received it: taking refuge in God can entail asking him to set us in a place where we have a more heavenly perspective on our troubles. We can endure a lot when we see things from God’s perspective, from the perspective of glory. We are no longer captive to what we want and think we need; we can see beyond the press of our desires to what counts most for God’s ongoing kingdom-building project and for eternity.

Even when I am surrounded by trouble, God can pick me up so I can see better. I only need to come to him in prayer, to come with upturned face and outstretched arms.

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