It is the day after the bombing in Manchester. The lives of teenagers and their families will never be the same. What kind of prayer and what kind of Scripture can be offered in the wake of this tragedy? As you read through Psalm 143 you know instinctively that there can be nothing trite and rote which can be tossed to those families as if this is any type of magical balm which will heal all wounds. The words of the Lord in Scripture have been used by generations as a healing balm, but with the recognition that words cannot heal, but only the Lord can. David understood this.
As he wrote this psalm and he found himself still in a cave hiding from his enemy, he knew that his life would never be the same no matter what happened from this day forward. Yes, he would experience happiness and joy again, but this time in the cave was defining and was a time that would always leave a mark and an impression upon him. The same is true of any tragedy or event in our life which is defining and horrific. In this day and age when we recognize more than ever that as Westerners we are susceptible to the realities of life that most of the world has known for generations, that at any moment an act of violence could take our life, we need to hear the words of those who were able to reach out and beseech the Lord in a life that was constantly surrounded by a violent environment.
David saw death all around him. David killed his enemies. David asked the Lord to protect him while he was in battle and pursuing his enemies. We have to ask the question of what use is a psalm from a person whose life was so radically different from our life as we live in a reality that is so different from the author. While a bomber’s cowardly act brings death and destruction to the headlines, we have to recognize that most of the world lives in a reality where every single day their life could be asked of them in a violent way.
I’ll never forget being a pastor in Russia and knowing that half of my congregation as they stepped out into the streets of Moscow would be taking their life into their own hands. The violence that people of color are subjected to in Russia is real. It is daily. When I step out of my door I don’t have to worry about where I walk or with whom I interact. Because of my complexion my concerns revolve around other matters, I don’t have to think about how I look and how that is going to be interpreted by people. I wonder how we would go through life if we did have to worry about violence which would be brought against us because of the way that we look, or in David’s case, because we are on the wrong side of the battle.
The violence that was a part of David’s life led him to say to the Lord: “Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.” The Pit would be death. Maybe it would be helpful in the face of terroristic attacks to recognize the big picture of it all. God is still in control. He was in control when David faced death every day of his life. He is in control when random acts of violence punctuate our existence, but don’t seem to overwhelm it. We need to recognize that for some these acts of violence are a daily concern. Once we recognize that, then we might be able to understand David’s writings better, and the realities of those whose pigmentation makes them a target.