Tuesday, July 17, 2012
The hills around Bocono, Venezuela are magnificent. I tried and tried to take a picture that would capture their dewy green expanse and the way they spoke calm to my soul with their endless folds and creases. I did not end up with a satisfying photo, but the hills did prompt a return to a beautiful psalm.
Psalm 121 speaks about hills. It is the second in a group of psalms referred to as the Psalms of Assent. These short songs were sung by ancient pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem. In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson comments on this important group of psalms and makes the case for walking life’s road with a persistent reliance on God and God alone. Peterson notes that the Songs of Assent speak to “times of in between.” They are “songs of transition, brief hymns that provide courage, support and inner direction for getting us to where God is leading us in Jesus Christ.” Psalm 120 takes the voice of the bitter, discouraged traveler. Psalm 121 follows with a reminder that he who watches our way does not slumber, really sees us, offers the promise of protection that the inevitable weight of suffering will not crush us in the end.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm —
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Rather than worshiping nature, Psalm 121 reminds that the beauty of the hills, their majesty and seeming permanence, cannot save us in our darkest hour. They are a “delusion” (Jer. 3:23). They are creation, not Creator. Our confusion in the face of their beauty should point us back to promise in Romans (8:28, 31-32) that nothing, not even mountains, can stand between us and the love of God. Peterson: “The only serious mistake we can make when illness comes, when anxiety threatens, when conflict disturbs our relationships with others is to conclude that God has gotten bored looking after us and has shifted his attention to more exciting Christians, or that God has become disgusted with our meandering obedience and decided to let us fend for ourselves for a while, or that God has gotten too busy fulfilling prophecy in the Middle East to take time to sort out the complicated mess we have gotten ourselves into. That is the only serious mistake we can make. It is the mistake that Psalm 121 prevents: the mistake of supposing that God’s interest in us waxes and wanes in response to our spiritual temperature.”
I want to walk in obedience, one foot in front of the other. I want to walk towards heaven with a sure-footed faith that sings through the hills and does not fear darkness, strangers, or the cliffs along the way. I want to remember that the creation that speaks to my soul is but a dim reflection of the One who folded the hills together and painted them with colors of endless birth, ripe fruit, and things made new by sweet, warm rains. Lord, make it so.