Daily Devotion for NPC Late again today, for the usual reasons -- distractibility enhanced by an inability to say, “That’s plenty for now.” That said, today’s thoughts are more fitting for midday than morning (see March 31’s devotion).
Try not to be put off by the amount of material; you’ll find that the sheer volume of verbiage isn’t as imposing as it looks.
1) Prayer: Take a deep breath and be still for a moment; then pray,
Lord Jesus, please be present with me now as I read your word and consider my response to the world’s suffering. In these moments, please encourage me and give me fresh confidence in you and your love. Help me be open to whatever you want to teach me. Help me be ready to respond to you with trust and obedience. Amen.
You needn’t impose all three of these psalms on yourself. Any one of them will suffice. I’ve included all three, because being barraged by the cumulative force of the three psalms together might facilitateexperiencing the point of today’s devotional.
Skim each psalm. Pause after each psalm and notice what stands out to you.
Read the portions of your choosing again, and again pause and notice what stands out to you.
Read the verses that stand out to you again, slowly, out loud. If your attention drifts, or if you are particularly struck by a particular word or phrase, read it again, still slowly and out loud.
Psalm 10 1Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? 2In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor— let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.
3For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord. 4In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, “God will not seek it out”; all their thoughts are, “There is no God.”
5Their ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of their sight; as for their foes, they scoff at them. 6They think in their heart, “We shall not be moved; throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.”
7Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. 8They sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding places they murder the innocent. Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; 9they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; they lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.
10They stoop, they crouch, and the helpless fall by their might. 11They think in their heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
12Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed. 13Why do the wicked renounce God, and say in their hearts, “You will not call us to account”?
14But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan.
15Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers; seek out their wickedness until you find none. 16The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land.
17O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear 18to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.
Psalm 13 1How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, 4and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Psalm 22 1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. 7All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; 8“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
9Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. 10On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. 11Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; 17I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; 18they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! 20Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! 21Save me from the mouth of the lion!
From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. 22I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 23You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
25From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. 26The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. 28For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. 30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, 31and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
3) For Reflection:
The heart of today's devotional is the following article by N. T. Wright from Time magazine. I wholeheartedly commend it to you. The link to the article in Time magazine may be found at the bottom of the article.
Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It's Not Supposed To By N.T. Wright Updated: March 29, 2020 3:47 PM EDT | Originally published: March 29, 2020 8:00 AM EDT
N. T. Wright is the Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews, a Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University and the author of over 80 books, including The New Testament in Its World.
For many Christians, the coronavirus-induced limitations on life have arrived at the same time as Lent, the traditional season of doing without. But the sharp new regulations—no theater, schools shutting, virtual house arrest for us over-70s—make a mockery of our little Lenten disciplines. Doing without whiskey, or chocolate, is child’s play compared with not seeing friends or grandchildren, or going to the pub, the library or church. There is a reason we normally try to meet in the flesh. There is a reason solitary confinement is such a severe punishment. And this Lent has no fixed Easter to look forward to. We can’t tick off the days. This is a stillness, not of rest, but of poised, anxious sorrow.
No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions in a culture which, generations back, embraced rationalism: everything must have an explanation. But supposing it doesn’t? Supposing real human wisdom doesn’t mean being able to string together some dodgy speculations and say, “So that’s all right then?” What if, after all, there are moments such as T. S. Eliot recognized in the early 1940s, when the only advice is to wait without hope, because we’d be hoping for the wrong thing? Rationalists (including Christian rationalists) want explanations; Romantics (including Christian romantics) want to be given a sigh of relief. But perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, “Why?” and don’t get an answer. It’s where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world. It’s bad enough facing a pandemic in New York City or London. What about a crowded refugee camp on a Greek island? What about Gaza? Or South Sudan? At this point the Psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, come back into their own, just when some churches seem to have given them up. “Be gracious to me, Lord,” prays the sixth Psalm, “for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.” “Why do you stand far off, O Lord?” asks the 10th Psalm plaintively. “Why do you hide yourself in time of trouble?” And so it goes on: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?” (Psalm 13). And, all the more terrifying because Jesus himself quoted it in his agony on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22). Yes, these poems often come out into the light by the end, with a fresh sense of God’s presence and hope, not to explain the trouble but to provide reassurance within it. But sometimes they go the other way. Psalm 89 starts off by celebrating God’s goodness and promises, and then suddenly switches and declares that it’s all gone horribly wrong. And Psalm 88 starts in misery and ends in darkness: “You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness.” A word for our self-isolated times. The point of lament, woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.
God was grieved to his heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of his human creatures. He was devastated when his own bride, the people of Israel, turned away from him. And when God came back to his people in person—the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that’s what it’s about—he wept at the tomb of his friend. St. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit “groaning” within us, as we ourselves groan within the pain of the whole creation. The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to recognize the One God in the tears of Jesus and the anguish of the Spirit.
It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope. New wisdom for our leaders? Now there’s a thought.