Sunday, September 4, 2016

But As For Me

By Jill Carattini and originally published at rzim.org
There are some thoughts about God a Christian carries as truths deeply cemented into the mind. That God is good, for instance, that Christ forgives, that God is a God of grace and mercy and strength. Recitation of these qualities could be offered on cue, or given as gentle correction from a friend when vision has become skewed: God loves you. God is in the midst of your situation. You are forgiven. These phrases are known by heart, even if there are times we do not apply them to our own:
“Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold” (Psalm 73:1-2).
Here in these ancient words, a familiar lament is exposed in the expression of an unknown soul: There are times when what is true for all of Israel doesn’t seem true for the one, for me.
There are many reasons one might feel singled out from time to time as being separated from a particular promise or attribute of God. It may be that we are feeling cast aside from God’s presence or forgiveness because something is blocking our view of God’s mercy. A false sense of humility or remnants of shame from previous mistakes may cause us to keep a picture of blame ever before us, skewing our vision of the cross. Still other times, we find ourselves feeling alienated because it seems God has truly overlooked us. Surely God is good to Israel. But as for me… Whatever the cause, in our very admission of feeling overlooked, the Spirit may be attempting to draw us toward the face of God and away from the things that distance us.
The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas, 1889, Museum of Modern Art, New York City.
No matter the spirit in which it is uttered, the addendum “but as for me” is a heartfelt cry for all. Yet, in a way, the words themselves cast us away from God as we draw ourselves in sharp distinction from what we know to be true. The truth is not moved by our addendums; we are.
Even so, it is mercifully in our attempts to air our grievances before God that we often discover this paradox, and the vicariously human Son of God who is in the midst of it. As C.S. Lewis’s Orual observes in Til We have Faces: to have heard herself making the complaint was to be answered.
True to form, as the writer of Psalm 73 vividly articulates the frustration that caused him to feel overlooked and cast aside, he begins to see his own offenses in the midst of it. The psalmist seems to discover how these offenses, including his own perceptions—and not the God of all creation—have kept him from the hope of Israel. “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” says the psalmist. “I was so foolish and ignorant, I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you” (vv. 3, 22). But then in the midst of feeling singled out by his own narrative, the writer responds to himself with a certainty of which he may or may not feel ownership, but knows is true all the same: “Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand” (73:22-23).
In times when we find ourselves mentally articulating a disparity between God’s character and our experience of life, an inconsistency between things we thought we knew and things we deeply feel, there is no more important defense, even if it is uttered in lament: Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand. For God himself utters it with us. There is good reason God asks us to bind his words upon our hearts, to talk about them on the road and impress them on our children, to write them on the door frames of our houses and on our gates. There will be moments when we will need what is true to override what is felt.
In such a vein, the psalmist, who began his song with an admission of being overlooked by the God of Israel, concludes his song with a similar declaration and the hope of inclusion.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds” (Psalm 73:28).
This, may we know by heart.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.