“As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God.”
~Psalm 40:17 (NRSV).
Psalm 40 is set in the deepest of bogs, yet it elicits such heartrending praise.
Still, there’s something sublimely banal about the mood that finds us at depth — knowing God’s eventual, and fundamental, grace, but also having given up that it might be felt, by us, today. It’s like coming down from a drug-high; hope is forlornly back-washed.
David’s Perplexed Position
We just imagine the faith of David. To bellow in the abyss; to be heard, yet not answered; not straight away. It defies human rationale. But, God is not disposed to our thinking or ways. Besides this, David still looks to the Lord.
This psalm is part high call of confidence in God to deliver — and, indeed, to glory in that fact, because of God’s acts of past — and part a plea for mercy afresh, but in desperation because of significant delay.
We all know that sense of lingering pain or grief — when the trials have gone on too long.
Lament Psalm in Reverse
This style of lament — good first, then bad — is uncharacteristic for both David and the Psalter. It’s important, however, to realise that the flow from praise for delivery to bitter lament for the present trial is actually an encouragement to us.
If David can suffer so keenly, so inexplicably, and so well, considering, so can we.
Moreover, the keynote of unending suffering (at the hands of many types of enemies) is unfailing hope without any sense of end date. In other words, David got over bargaining with God on the end date for delivery. The end date had become irrelevant.
This is a challenge to us in our trials and suffering; to get over thoughts of ‘negotiating’ an end. Issues of deliverance are, at times, non-negotiable.
The Encouragement of this Psalm
The key idea of this psalm is of patient expectation, which gives way to the sort of faith that acts beyond belief.
This is faithful action even when our hearts do not actually believe anymore. This is the most powerful and God-pleasing faith there is. This message needs to resound from the rooftops, from the city squares, and be advertised over television networks, primetime. It’s the faith we need.
What do we have in this sort of non-expectant faith?
Qualities that are unconquerable, for Satan’s already tried his best to dissuade us, yet we’ve not budged off the line. When we’ve achieved this style and degree of faith we epitomise Jesus, truly.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: to U2’s song “40” which is written based on this psalm.