After a much needed holiday, internet free in the remote parts of the Norfolk Broads, I am back and taking up again, the poetic thread of my journey through the psalms. We come now to psalm 44, a psalm at once of despair and hope, and a challenging psalm for Christians to read. It speaks to our moments of despair because it describes the experience of feeling that God is ‘far off’ or even absent, and it laments the experience of defeat that we often endure in the world:
But now thou art far off, and puttest us to confusion: and goest not forth with our armies.
Thou makest us to turn our backs upon our enemies: so that they which hate us spoil our goods.
Thou lettest us be eaten up like sheep: and hast scattered us among the heathen.
And yet it also renews our hope for it invokes the very presence whose absence it laments:
Up, Lord, why sleepest thou: awake, and be not absent from us for ever.
But it is challenging because its context is battle and warfare, and we are rightly wary of invoking God to be partisan in our own bloody and sinful conflicts. One way for a Christian to read these battle psalms is to see them in the context not of our partial conflicts but of the ultimate struggle between good and evil whose front line runs through the centre of every human heart. In that ultimate and cosmic struggle Christ has already won the victory, and won it, not by bloody conquest, shedding the blood of others, but by shedding his own heart’s blood for all of us on the cross. The psalmist here complains that we have been ‘smitten into the place of dragons’ and ‘covered with the shadow of death’, but it is Christ who can really pray that line, for he entered death’s abode and fought with the devil, ‘that old dragon’ for all of us, and so my psalm ends with the passion and victory of Christ, which is, and always was, our only true hope.
As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.
The living fountain whence I drink my fill,
Must rise in me before I sing this psalm
How could it ever be God’s Holy will
To raise an army, to inflict the harm
The special horror of a holy war
How could we ever conquer in his name?
Oh Jesus, did you sing this psalm before
You girded strength to brave your agony,
To fight the only holy battle for
The world you loved, and heal the misery
Of all mankind? As for us you were smitten
Into the place of dragons, victory
Was won for all of us, as it is written
And so in Christ shall all be made alive
And still we live as if we have forgotten.
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