I remember wearing a cloak of invincibility in my youth as though it were yesterday, (invincibility, not invisibility!). But many years have now passed since I’ve worn that garment and I am left now feeling more naked than strong. I suspect the losing of my garment of strength and power did not happen in a day, rather, it slowly disappeared thread by thread until I have been left standing naked in weakness and vulnerability. When I read David’s words in Psalm 62:3 I think I understand what he meant by calling himself “this leaning wall, this tottering fence.” But to think I have become a leaning wall and a tottering fence is a deception, the painful truth is that I have been one all along but did not know it. The cloak I wore in my youth did not cover me with invincibility, only a sense of it: it was a magnificent lie to which I gave myself over. It is the same lie I suspect David believed at one time and, I further suspect, each one of us believes as well.
It would be grotesque to go into the details of how each of my threads were ripped away, and it would be indiscrete to ask the manner in which your threads have been removed, but I think I would be remiss if I didn’t ask if you have come to grips with who you really are underneath the cloak you so proudly wear. For until we accept the brevity of our lives and how weak, vulnerable, and sinful we really are, we will never be forced to look elsewhere for eternal strength, power, and holiness. Even more so, while enraptured by the illusion of our own strength, we will never be able to reach out in love to a lost and dying world, let alone accept the words, commands, and love of the Lord.
In August of 1965, Paul Simon released an album titled The Paul Simon Songbook, of which the opening track was a song by the name I Am a Rock. In this song, Simon describes how he isolated himself from the world by immersing himself in his books and poetry, protecting himself from friendship, laughter, loving, pain, and tears. Notable in this sad song are the words Simon uses to describe this place of safety: A fortress deep and mighty, that none may penetrate.
In 1981 Simon re-released the album The Paul Simon Songbook, writing in the liner notes that the words written in his youth did not reflect his present life. He also said, “I am not ashamed of where I’ve been and what I’ve thought. It’s just not me anymore. It’s perfectly clear to me that the songs I write today will not be mine tomorrow. I don’t regret the loss.” Seemingly, Simon’s cloak of invincibility was lost between the years of 1965 and 1981, but it’s not clear what new and worthy fortress Simon found behind which to rest: but David is another story.
David’s acknowledgment of his weakness and vulnerability (62:3-4) is surrounded by his praise of God’s strength. In Psalm 62:2 & 6 he says of God, “Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” When I think of the course of David’s life, starting as a lowly shepherd boy who killed bears and lions with his bare hands, then killing Goliath, before being catapulted to become the king of Israel, I would not have been surprised for him to think himself invincible. But there is another side to David’s story involving his downfall on the bed of Bathsheba and resultant family troubles plaguing him the remainder of his days. The fires of David’s failures stripped away the glory of his youth so that David stood naked before the Lord and finally confronted his fragile vulnerability, the brevity of his days, and the futility of hiding behind riches and human power.
I wish life were different. I wish we would be born into this world fully trusting God and not prone to wander into a world of pride and destructive behavior. I wish we would come out of the womb fully knowing how weak and fragile we are and how strong he is. I wish our youth was spent resting in the power and security of the one who created us and not spent chasing after the wind. I wish all of that and so much more, but the truth of the matter is that we are born with a cloak of invincibility under which we all are leaning walls and tottering fences ignorant of our true nature, and it frequently takes time and tragedy for most of us to realize this truth.
But the truth of our weakness is not the final truth we need to learn. Merely knowing how fragile we are is not enough, we must learn to trust in the one who is not fragile, we must learn to trust in God and his salvation, and we must learn to live in the fortress of God’s unfailing love, for it is not we who are a rock, but it is the great I Am who is a rock.