We cannot know his constant love if we rebel from it, turn away from it, or deny it. But his love remains; it abides beyond our ignorance, our tantrums, or our arrogance.
Psalm 80 is a communal lament written after a military defeat. It compares Israel to a vineyard whose walls have been broken down and all who pass by it now pick it clean of its once robust and rich grapes. Both men and animals ravage it. It has been cut down and burned and the the people are perishing. These images in the minds of the ancients were understood to be God’s rebuke to them for having gone astray.
We have all experienced times of great trouble, sorrow, or loss. Such things are a part of the human story because of sin. When we are in the midst of those troubles, we feel lost, even abandoned, subject to the whims of others, or to wild forces beyond our control. In times like these we may have found ourselves saying, “Where are you God?” Why are you not coming to my aid?” “Why do I not see your face?” While these questions come to us quickly, they are not the proper questions. This Psalm recognizes what the proper response to our suffering should be. It recognizes that reconciliation must begin with our recognition of our own personal, or our collective guilt. This is the first step that we must take before we can be restored. The unspoken truth here is that when we sin it is we who turn our faces away from God.
It is our sorrow and our corresponding desire for repentance that causes us to turn back to God. When we do this we find that God’s face is already shining fully upon us. When we turn to him, our faces full of the tears of repentance, we find him looking into our eyes with unimaginable love and forgiveness. God’s desire is to always be in relationship with us. But a relationship is a two way street. We cannot know his constant love if we rebel from it, turn away from it, or deny it. But his love remains; it abides beyond our ignorance, our tantrums, or our arrogance. We cannot diminish it. It is beyond our rage, our indifference, or our puny rebellions. It is only when we finally realize the foolishness of our ways, and the consequences of our errors, accepting them as our own and no one elses, that we turn back to God with true sorrow and repentance. The sorrow we feel when we finally realize and accept the responsibility for our sinful rebellion, is not that of one who cowers in submission to a being who is perceived as an arbitrary and angry god. No, there is no fear in us at this time, only sorrow for having failed our God, our neighbor, or ourselves. We turn back to God because we have been in relationship with him. We have known his love. We turn back because we have become aware of the overwhelming emptiness we feel in our hearts for having turned away from that constant, faithful love.
This is the power of Psalm 80. We, like the Jews of that time, are moved to repent. We desire to turn back to God to feel the bright warmth of his shining face upon our own. We long to see him, to be in his presence, to never wander away again. We know that it is his face always shining upon us that nourishes us, that makes our lives fruitful. We know that without him we are nothing. It is his love shining upon us at all times that saves us from our enemies, and from our own rebellions.
Lord, we are like petulant children at times. Help us to be aware of our failures and our faults. Inspire in us a deep and abiding desire to turn to you for aid, forgiveness and comfort. O God, we long to see your face. Help us to be aware of the pull of that longing deep in our our minds, our hearts, and our souls in every moment of every day, so that we may always remain in the life-giving light of your love. We pray this in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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