We can confront the problems and sufferings of life because we know that God’s love is true.
In Isaiah, chapter 4, verse 6, we hear, “Over all, his glory will be shelter and protection: shade from the parching heat of day, refuge and cover from storm and rain.” For the psalmist, the “glory” of God meant the sheltering, guiding, protecting cloud of light in which God accompanied his people across the desert and came to meet them in the place of worship.
Psalm 17, verse 8 would put it this way, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” In Psalm 18: 3, we read, “My God is the rock where I take refuge; my shield, my mighty help, my stronghold.” Sirach would extend this poetic metaphor even more, saying in chapter 34, verse 16, “The eyes of the Lord are upon those who love him; he is their mighty shield and strong support, A shelter from the heat, a shade from the noonday sun, a guard against stumbling, a help against falling.”
All of these are expressions of the reality of human suffering on the one hand but, more importantly, it expresses the recognition that we are not alone in our suffering. God’s love is always there for us and it is a protecting love, a sheltering love, and a love that encourages us and strengthens us to confront life’s problems with courage, and even confidence. We are not alone. But the psalmist also recognizes that this is a relationship, and we have our part to play in this relationship.
Psalm 5, for example, tells us, “To my words give ear, O Lord,/ give heed to my groaning./ Attend to the sound of my cries, my King and my God” (verses 2-3). This is clearly a prayer, a recognizable prayer of petition. Such prayer arises out of suffering, but it is also rooted in an abiding trust in a God who truly does listen, who does hear our groaning, who sees our suffering. The psalmist reiterates this saying, “It is you whom I invoke, O Lord. In the morning you hear me; in the morning I offer you my prayer, watching and waiting” (verse 4).
And there is a reward for such trust in God’s love and sheltering protection. “All those you protect shall be glad/ and ring out their joy./ You shelter them; in you they rejoice,/ those who love your name./ It is you who bless the just man, Lord:/ you surround him with favor as a shield” (v. 12-13). We, like the psalmist, are moved to such prayer, precisely because we know our need and that we have a God who not only listens but responds to our need with his protection. We can confront the problems and sufferings of life because we know that God’s love is true, consistent, and unconditional for those who love him. This is what we mean when we say we have a “personal relationship” with God.
“God is love, and whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 Jn 4:16). We can pray to God precisely because we believe that in his love we will always find shelter, refuge and strength. Thanks be to God!