Psalm 56: What can man do to me?

There is a story found in Brennan Manning’s book Ruthless Trust describing a conversation between a man having a personal crisis and Mother Theresa. When Mother Theresa asked how she could pray for him, he replied “Clarity,” to which she replied, “No, I will not do that. Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of. I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.” While the man may have been living consistently with the old adage that “knowledge is power,” Mother Theresa proposes the alternative that trusting God is sufficient.

These two options are much like those we find in Psalm 49 and 50 when God speaks to the wicked and the faithful. The wicked trust in themselves and their great wealth, while the faithful trust only in God. Granted, such trust is not easy to come by, especially when confronted with the sorts of things David encountered during this time when he wrote Psalm 56. He said,

My enemies are in hot pursuit;
all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long;
in their pride many are attacking me.
All day long they twist my words,
all their schemes are for my ruin.
They conspire, they lurk
they watch my steps,
hoping to take my life.

Given these sort of enemies, it would not be unexpected for David to seek clarity for understanding and strength by which to could conquer his foes, but David requests neither. Rather, he asks the question, “What can mere mortals do to me?” A quick answer seems to be that they want to take away his livelihood, bring him to disgrace, and then kill him. And unless we haven’t been paying attention to the fact that David is hiding in a cave, these are the very things that they are quite able to do. But David does not consider the quick answer, rather, through his tears (56:8), David appeals to his trust in God. He says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise – in God I trust and am not afraid.” (56:3-4) David acknowledges his fear but instead of seeking to battle his enemies alone and on his own strength and instead of seeking clarity, David places his trust in God. This simple act of placing his trust in God makes his fears disappear.

In many ways, what David describes here is similar to Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12-13. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Paul’s ability to endure any and every situation was not found by Paul on his own, rather it came from the strength of Christ: the one to whom Paul entrusted his very life.

Yep! This is another “Jesus is the answer” post. You better get used to it, because he is. I don’t mean he’s the answer to questions like 2+2=? (though a quick read of Colossians 1:15-17 might make you think differently about that question.) No, I mean Jesus is the answer to the sorts of life questions we all ask, and he is the reason Mother Theresa refused to pray for clarity. Taking hold of God and never letting go is a much better answer to our struggles than seeking clarity. Now, I realize this answer is a difficult one in the face of disease, unemployment, divorce, or worse, but we must realize this is THE key difference between God’s answer and man’s answer every time: trust always trumps clarity.

A good answer, right? Right. But now the practical question is how to actually place our trust in God. This is, for my part, difficult, for there have been many days and nights when I am so unsettled that I can’t sleep and frequently find myself face down on a dark closet floor praying for God to fix the situation. But, at the risk of sounding heretical, I don’t think that’s the best and only answer. A quick look at Psalm 56:12-13 and Psalm 50:14-15 reveals a very different answer.

We must first fulfill our vows to God. This means that we are to do the morally correct thing by living a life of holiness and continuing in the process of sanctification, no matter how difficult. Secondly, we are to present thank offerings to God. While animal sacrifices aren’t the norm today, we can praise God for what he has done in our life and what he will do. We must recognize, given that for God all of time is a completed work, the battle is already won and so praise him for his victory.

I would like to say the answer is something more complicated than that, say, for instance, finding clarity, but it really isn’t. We must continue to live lives worthy of the kingdom and praise God for the once and future conquering kingdom presently existing in eternity, because when all is said and done and we place our trust in God, what can mere mortals do to you?

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