Last week in the lectionary, we looked at a Psalm of lament, Ps 137. Which is basically a complaint, and often contrasted with a Psalm of ascent (a kind of celebration/enthronement of God). Well, it seems to me that this week’s Psalm (66) is one of ascent and lament. In fact, it reads uncomfortably like an abusive relationship, where the Psalmist celebrates his beloved, and tries his best to gloss over some pretty bad stuff. The Psalmist starts out all “you’re awesome, protective, and constant, God!”, then details horrible stuff that happened, then curiously concludes with how great God is. In between, the Psalmist promises that our feet won’t slip right alongside another promise that we’ll have trials, then leaves us to wonder how these both can be true. Like people trapped in an unhealthy relationship, we are praising this powerful person while pretending that we’re not suffering under them, too.
In military and other tactical enterprises, teams of people will often divide up the field of view like the face of a clock, where 12 is straight ahead, 3 o’clock is to your direct right, and 9 o’clock is on your direct left. This helps to identify where an opponent is approaching, and also helps to divide up the workload of keeping watch. In this rubric, a major preoccupation is with who’s on our 6? That is, who is watching straight behind the team, protecting them from danger that would strike where they are most vulnerable.
It seems to me that God is on our 6, but God presents a porous defense. Or a limited attention span. Or a lack of understanding about our vulnerabilities. Or maybe God simply has a different idea about ‘security’. Maybe this image of ‘God’s eyes keeping watch over the nations; letting no rebel rise up against him’ isn’t the blanket of comfort that we’d like it to be. Maybe this idea of ‘trying us like silver’ means we’ll feel the heat that burns off the dross of our lives.
Or maybe the Psalmist is leaving us something akin to a coded note from a hostage. After all, the Psalms were meant to be recited and sung in public worship assemblies– places where folks are yearning for comfort and assurance and relief from the troubles of the workaday world. So perhaps the Psalmist is being a bit sneaky by offering some typically worshipful sentiments, then subtly mentioning ‘snares, heavy burdens, enemies, fire, and water’ before landing back in the secure place of victory and relief where God brought them “to a place of refreshment”. Perhaps the Psalmist means to subversively let us know that this life of following God will be no easy Way. It might look easy from a distance, or from the comfort of hindsight, but it’s painful in the everyday. It might be a bed of roses, but we’ll be laying on the thorns while we smell the fragrance.