“What if—what if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living?” asks the psalmist at the close of a psalm that looks back at a life.
I can imagine that psalmist asking herself some other questions too:
“What if I had listened to those lies my enemies told about me?”
“What if I had let their words corrode my heart?”
“What if I had let those evildoers eat up my flesh?”
“What if I had bought all the nonsense the world around me peddles”
“What if I had shaped my life according to the rules others prescribe? the patterns others cut?”
It’s hard, so very hard, not to fall into the traps others set for us. Life is littered with opportunities to sell oneself short, to lose one’s confidence, to begin to doubt that we are, indeed, made in the image of God. To doubt that we are wonderfully made. Think of all the ways folks can say, “You’re not welcome here.”
Sometimes that happens with just a word or phrase—“illegal immigrant,” “white only,” “no Irish need apply.
Sometimes that happens with all the power of the state behind the act or phrase or symbol—a yellow Star of David to be worn on a sleeve or a number tattooed on a wrist.
Sometimes it’s a gesture or even a habit that says “You’re not welcome. You’re not worthy.” Crossing the street or looking past a person or plowing right into someone.
The church is not immune from such behavior. Think of the sacraments that have been withheld from people because of who they are or who they love.
It makes you wonder, “How do people survive?”
“What if—what if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living?” the psalmist asks as she looks back on her life. In that very question lies the key not only to surviving but also to thriving in a sometimes hostile land—believing in the goodness of God in the land of the living.
Years ago, I ran across a cartoon in The New Yorker. A pastor was standing at the door of the church. He was engaged in conversation with one of his parishioners. The caption read, “You mean I have to believe it to see it?”
I think that’s true. I think you have to believe in the goodness of God in the land of the living in order to see it at work.
It helps to train your eye and your ear as well.
Reading the psalms can help in that. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Sometimes just saying or singing those words shifts things around. Try it. Now. And remember a time when you’ve tasted the goodness of God.
There’s a line in the psalms I come back to again and again. Sometimes it’s my mantra.
“God brought me out into an open place; God rescued me because she delighted in me.”
There have been times in my life when I’ve said that line over and over and over again in order to remind myself that I have and that I will again see the goodness of God in the land of the living.
The apostle Paul writes to the church in Phillipi, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” He’s not referring to something that happens in the afterlife. Paul is talking about the here and now. Jesus also talks about the here and now. “The reign of God has come near….” “There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the reign of God.”
The goodness of God in the land of the living.
The goodness of God that heals the sick, that opens the eyes of the blind, that lets the oppressed go free.
The goodness of God that says to the poor, the hungry, and those who weep, “Blessed are you.”
The goodness of God that comes to us in our times of greatest need.
The goodness of God that stands with us in our hour of deepest pain.
The goodness of God in the land of the living