Do me a favor and please read Psalm 61.
For many, if not most of us, we take comfort and joy in knowing that there is no place we cannot go that would bring us OUT of God’s presence. If I were to climb the highest mountain or swim into the deepest of caverns, I simply cannot get away from God’s presence, love, and knowledge. We proclaim and affirm that God is above and beyond all that we see and experience — and as the creator of all things he simply IS everywhere.
But what does that look like to a people that believe that God is outside of our time? What does that look like to a people that proclaim God’s sovereignty, strength, and might — and yet have God dwelling in a specific place? And more specifically, what does all that look and feel like when one is in distress?
There’s a lot of assumptions on this psalm about where David is and what issues are before him — and while we can continue to speculate it really doesn’t do us any good — and I am of the thinking that this psalm simply doesn’t need it. We don’t need to know exactly where David is or whom he has fled from or why he finds himself where he does — because you and I can still relate.
David is somewhere far … far … far away. Now obviously this is “relative” because the “known world” back then wasn’t nearly what we understand it to be today — but David was so far away that he felt one simply couldn’t get any further from God. And so he starts off this psalm with this petition for God to hear his cry and prayer. “From the ends of the earth I call to you …” — from the furthest place one could be, God, I pray that my plea for help reaches you.
For David it’s this feeling that he is so far removed from God that there simply is no further they could possibly even get. And when we think of where God dwelled (in the image and idea of David and OT Israelites) David is SOMEWHERE in the wilderness, away from Jerusalem, away from the Temple of the Lord — away from the presence of God. And it is in this far distant location that he is without protection, food, and shelter. And so really this psalm is a gut-wrenching physical, mental, and emotional crying out to God for help. So much packed in 2 simple verses. But David doesn’t end there. This is only his first request: to simply be heard. And God, once you hear my voice, here is my request: “lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Which means — remove me from where I am — and put me up in a place of protection. Place me upon a rock that is high above so that I can see, and know, that I am protected from all angles, sides, and enemies.
David is seeking protection and safety … physical, mental, and spiritual.
The terrible thing about being in a low place, either physical or spiritual, is the vulnerability of it — at least it is for me. Everything feels more raw, more open, more intense. Words hurt more, definitely anything physical seems to take more of a toll, but the whole presence and space begin to take turns attacking me mentally and spiritually. You begin to think that this is “it” — you’re done for. You begin to convince yourself that since you are STILL in this “space” that obviously God is too far off. Self-doubt, worth, and despair all begin to chip away at what little you have left. We know this isn’t what we believe — and yet we find ourselves here.
And if you’re anything like me then you simply toss up a “hail-Mary” (or a last ditch effort) to God in hopes of him hearing our faint, fading voice. Again, why we find ourselves here — God only knows. And why we find ourselves FEELING this way about God … well, that’s probably a mixture of self-worth, value, self-neglect, and Satan all mixed in with our inability to see further than what surrounds us. Simply put, we are really good at making OURSELVES sink deeper than the situation really is. Satan is really good about utilizing darkness and despair to chip away at our self-worth, value, and understanding/declaration of God.
I think we need to take a page from something David says here. While David throws up his “hail Mary” his request is for God to place him upon a rock. For God to become his refuge and take him under his wings for protection. It’s interesting how David goes from such distress and feeling so far away — to proclaiming that God is NOT far away and that God CAN bring him to higher ground and shelter him from the pain.
So how can God be so far off in feeling — and yet in that same breath David also proclaiming that he knows God has heard his prayer and vow? Yeah … I can’t answer that one for ya. We do the exact same things when we are in those places and spaces. We feel lost and abandoned and ignored and yet if that were truly the case why would we cry for help? Why would we seek God in prayer? Why would we even turn to him in the first place?
I think the only sure thing we DO have in life is that we are NOT far away from God. That we know his love and dedication and work in our lives because we see it and experience it and know it in our hearts. And we read psalms like David’s here and see his request for a “rock” and we go, “Yes! Lord Jesus place me upon you for you ARE my rock! That while you may cause unbelievers to stumble you raise up your children and protect them! You lift us up in our despair, you lift us up from our foe, you shelter us under your wings and you ARE our strong tower!”
In truth? This psalm, for me, reaffirms all those images we have of Christ and the work of God in our lives. And what I find strangely beautiful is that these truth-images of who God is and what he has done (and the names we have for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) come to us OUT OF our moments of despair BECAUSE we know that God is everywhere and able to do all things … and actually does them!