“For the Lord God is a sun and a shield.” Psalm 84:11
A marriage is breaking up. It’s not pretty, but then none of them are. This one involves a good friend about whom my wife and I have worried for several years.
The note came yesterday. The marriage is one short step away from being over, a legal step. For all intents and purposes, it’s over already, and they both know it. Despite their best intentions, despite their mutual grief over its demise, what they did together one Saturday before God and friends and family is on the brink of death.
An e-mail note bore the bad tidings, the kind of note that demands a response, any response, even when there are no words. So last night, I sat here and tried to say some things that would be helpful. I told him that I didn’t have any valuable advice, that it seemed to me as if nothing I could say would change anything. I told him I’d listen, and I told him that he had tons of friends here who would welcome him with open arms. That may have been the best thing I said because I know it’s true and so does he.
He said both he and his wife are clinically depressed and taking medications to counter it. I told him I understand, but really that’s not true, not totally.
I told him that I’d been writing meditations on the Psalms for years, but in my soul I’ve never really gotten beyond the very first word of the very first psalm—“blessed.” I told him I was still trying to understand what it means to be blessed.
I said that the closest I could come to the meaning of that word is “happy.” But that word seems cheap. My grandson is happy when he sits at our table eating an orange popsicle. To be blessed is to be more than just happy, isn’t it?
Last week I had to write another e-mail to another friend, who is dying of lung cancer, a man who, not that many years ago, buried his wife, who had herself died of cancer. I’m not good at saying nice things. I don’t know why.
What I said in both cases, however, is part and parcel of this familiar metaphor—“God is a shield.” No matter what we experience, no matter how bad or pitiable or shocking, it seems to me that believers always know that God himself stands somehow between us and sheer, unbearable horror.
I read a story yesterday in the paper about a reporter, a columnist, who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. At the end, his muscle system in a lock down, he communicated by pointing to letters on a keyboard. One of the last notes said, “I am so blessed.”
God is a shield. He doesn’t keep us from battle—witness my friends, witness the columnist punching out his last few letters. But God is a grate over the black hole of total meaninglessness, which is itself a kind of shield. We can know him. We can trust him. We can be blessed, even in our suffering.
Whoever wrote this gorgeous psalm never heard of Jesus Christ and therefore wrote far better than he knew—a definition of holy scripture, in a way. He didn’t know Christ, who is a shield, who carried off our sins and death and damnation.
God is a shield.
I could have said that in those two letters. But in both cases, I suppose I didn’t have to. Thank the Lord—both of the men I wrote already know very well that God is their shield. I don’t know if they think themselves blessed right now, but both of them know very well that they are.