Making Sense of the Tensions of the Christian Life
- July 25, 2019
- Jared Odenbeck
“Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cried to you for help.” (Psalm 31:21-22)
I am learning the tensions of the Christian life. I tend to understand all things through an “either-or” categorization through elimination. Either God is sovereign, or humans have the capacity for agency. And yet, light is a particle, or it is a wave. We are “the righteousness of Christ,” clean and pure and holy, and yet, we still sin. The kingdom of heaven is here and coming, and yet it will not be here in fullness until Christ returns. You see, there is tension in Christian living.
And this is the tension in which we find the Psalmist in these verses. He is surrounded on all sides, likely hiding in a cave from Saul as depicted in 1 Samuel. Doom and despair loom, certain to pounce. But, the tension. “Blessed be the LORD,” because he sees us, he loves us, he knows our affliction and our needs, and he has met the Psalmist in his time of great need.
And what did he gain? “He has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me,” and, when we taste such sweetness, and are enveloped on all sides with such glory, we will fret not, worry not, and put away our fear. We will soon discover that the cares and comforts of the world will melt from our hearts in the shining light of the Son, and that little else matters apart from steadfast love.
And what is steadfast? Why is such love such a comfort? Such love is the highest assurance. The tides of life rise and fall, but one thing remains in it all. Cast your life onto such a rock, and you will not be swept away when the remotest roars and the seas rise. Steadfast love departs not. Steadfast love is the comfort we desire, the acceptance and forgiveness we need, and the refuge from all of life’s puzzles and troubles. Seek after that.
And note, in verse 22, there was alarm. Alarm so great, that the Psalmist fears his separation from the hand and protection and mercy and grace of the LORD. The Psalmist finds himself in the midst of the tension of the Christian life. In this life, on the one hand, there will be crises. There will be alarm. We will face trouble and our souls will sound the alarm bells of anxiety and fear and worry, and the rescue crews of self-preservation and pride and self-reliance and control and emotional suppression rush to the scene.
“But.” See, the Psalmist’s soul rings the alarm, but rather than welcome the first responders, he preaches truth to his soul and experiences real deliverance. “You heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.” What are we, that the LORD of the universe would stoop and incline his ear? Oh, we should never ignore and forget the greatness of this privilege and honor, lest we fall into the peril of prayerlessness.
Note, the LORD “heard the voice of my pleas…when I cried to you for help.” Crying to the LORD is hard. It requires humility. Unless we know and acknowledge our need, we will not cry. Unless we are hopeless, we will not seek hope. Unless we find trouble, we will not seek shelter. Now we see the truth of the Apostle’s words, in that “all things work together for the good,” and nothing is wastes for the LORD’s people. That is how we will find blessedness in all circumstances. And that is how we will make sense of and understand, much as we may, the tensions of the Christian life.