Holidays and Death’s Silence

Scripture Focus: Psalm 94:17
17 Unless the Lord had given me help,
    I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.

Reflection: Holidays and Death’s Silence
By Erin Newton

“What is there really to be thankful for this year?” I sat outside with my dad talking about the upcoming holidays. This is our first major holiday without my mom and there is the painful silence of her absence.

Holidays have all the promises of cheer and merriment as well as the oppressive weight of forced happiness and performative joy. Another friend lamented, “I feel rushed and unable to enjoy the season.” We all feel some sort of pressure from outside circumstances or inward expectations.

Psalm 94 would not be a text you would choose for Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent. It is a plea for God to enact justice against the wicked. The cry is to God as judge and avenger. But the psalmist’s foot is slipping. Life has become perilous. Anxiety sets in.

In many ways Psalm 94 is a perfect choice for this season. International wars rage around us. Family battles seem no less destructive. Undeserved suffering continues to plague our everyday life.

The Psalmist says, “Unless the Lord had given me help…” The recognition of crises, trauma, grief, pain, hopelessness, and our weakness to remedy it is important. In the same way I have been asked how I manage continuing school or writing or hosting Bible studies in the midst of the never-ending grief. My heart responds, “If it had not been for…,” and I continue with some truth that has anchored me in this turbulent time.

If it had not been for the truth of heaven, I would have dwelt in the silence of death.

If it had not been for the psalms of lament, I would have dwelt in the silence of death.

If it had not been for the hand of Jesus ministering through the hands of a friend who sits quietly next to me as I cry, I would have dwelt in the silence of death.

There are the anchors of faith to buoy us up from the depths of darkness. We remain in the waters, tossing and drifting at sea. But we remain afloat, perhaps just in survival mode as the waves of a busy, social-event-filled month crash over us.

Let us take a moment to consider how God supports us by his unfailing love (v. 18) and gives us joy through his consolation (v. 19). Meditate on how you would finish the phrase, “If it had not been for…”  

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 19-20 (Listen 5:02)
Psalms 94 (Listen 2:08)

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 21 (Listen 5:03Psalms 95-96 (Listen 2:37)
1 Chronicles 22 (Listen 3:25Psalms 97-98 (Listen 2:19)

Read more about Edge of the Abyss
The abyss of despair is like the watery depths of the ocean…The feeling is crushing—helpless, hopeless, vulnerable.

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Abandon Human Vengeance

Scripture Focus: Psalm 94.1-7
The Lord is a God who avenges.
O God who avenges, shine forth.
Rise up, Judge of the earth;
pay back to the proud what they deserve.
How long, Lord, will the wicked,
how long will the wicked be jubilant?
They pour out arrogant words;
all the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, Lord;
they oppress your inheritance.
They slay the widow and the foreigner;
they murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob takes no notice.”

From John: Christ told us that, spiritually, thoughts are as condemnable as actions and insulting language is as condemnable as physical violence. In a culture in which vengeance drives a machine of violent rhetoric which leads to physical violence, Christians have a responsibility to break the machine. With this post from 2018, we pray that Christians will abandon our culture’s model of unrestrained vengeance and violence. 

Reflection: Abandon Human Vengeance
By John Tillman

The tactics of human vengeance are escalatory. We always hit back harder than we were struck.

This is why God specifically limited the punishment that could be legally sought for damages. “An eye for an eye” was never intended to instigate a god-ordained, eye-gouging, free-for-all. It is a limit designed for selfish, angry, vengeful people. In other words, for us.

The psalmist understands that when it comes to vengeance, our role is non-participatory. We cry for it. We give it over to God. We, as Paul writes, “leave room” for the Lord’s just vengeance.

As much as our culture shrinks from biblical descriptions of divine vengeance and wrath, we call for revenge frequently and celebrate those who carry it out. At times it seems like every area of our culture is vociferously demanding vengeance.

Politics is the area in which it is easiest to see it at the moment.

For decades (maybe centuries) political strategists have justified questionable tactics by pointing at the behavior of the other side, childishly saying, “They hit me first.” Politicians are also fond of the mantra of abusers, “look what they made me do.” And every strategic maneuver provides more fuel for hatred and sets up precedent to justify the next retaliation.

Vengeance breeds hatred, and hatred fuels vengeance. This pattern is not new, but it is accelerating.

In their book, Prius or Pickup, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler discuss how the percentage of Democrats who hate Republicans and Republicans who hate Democrats skyrocketed over the past 18 years. It remained below 20% from 1980 through the 1990s. But in 2016 it was at 50% and trending up. As Hetherington and Weiler say, “hating the opposite political party is no longer a fringe thing.”

As Christians, we must identify ourselves as part of a new fringe that will not submit to the normalcy of hatred.

We must be a fringe that will not be intimidated by those who demand revenge. A fringe that works for justice but will not tolerate the vigilantification of retribution. A fringe that will maintain civility without allowing it to be a synonym for complicity.

Those who continue to stoop to hatred, fear, and exaggeration are worshipers of results, not the Redeemer. As Christians, we have an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from culture every time vitriol spews.

We must be the first to break the chain of retaliatory and violent rhetoric.
We must abandon human vengeance before we can see divine justice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let your loving-kindness be my comfort, as you have promised to your servant.
Let your compassion come to me, that I may live, for your law is my delight. — Psalm 119.76-77

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 42  (Listen – 3:12)
Psalm 94 (Listen – 2:08)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 43  (Listen – 5:15), Psalm 95-96 (Listen – 2:37
Ezekiel 44  (Listen – 5:32), Psalm 97-98 (Listen – 2:19)

Read more about Praying for Divine Vengeance
The prayer for the vengeance of God is the prayer for the carrying out of God’s righteousness in the judgment of sin.

Read more about Responding to Political Violence
For Christians to fail to condemn, or worse, to directly endorse this type of violence is a great moral and theological failing.

Thoughtful Trust :: Throwback Thursday

Psalm 94.19
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.

This Bible is a great honeycomb, and it drips with honey. Come and taste its virgin sweetness, O ye whose mouths are full of bitterness ― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Reflection: Thoughtful Trust :: Throwback Thursday
By Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Godly people are thoughtful people. Indeed it is often a sign of the beginning of grace in a man when he begins to consider. Believing is not the death of thinking, it is the sanctification of it.

Gracious men take much account of their thoughts, and make a conscience of them. Other men are scarcely alarmed in conscience by their actions, unless they happen to commit some glaring crime, but the saint has lost his heart of stone, and his heart of flesh is conscious of God’s displeasure, and trembles at it, when an impure thought has defiled his soul.

Regenerate men have sensitive minds, so that a word wrongly spoken grieves them sorely; and if it should never go so far as a word, and only an evil thought like an unclean bird flits through their mind, they are troubled lest they should have invited or secretly entertained so foul a lodger.

We must, then, look well to our thoughts, and keep our heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life. We must watch thought, think upon thought, and pray about thought, and happy shall we be if we can say, in the language of the text, “In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.”

In times when many thoughts assail us, the attributes of God are each one of them the delight of our soul. The gist of the whole matter is this: the way to comfort is the way where God is to be found. Christian, the way for sustenance, strength, hope, and consolation is the way which leads thee to thy God. Trust ye in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah there is everlasting strength.

And oh, poor sinner, the same way is open to you. Do not look within for comfort, for you will find none. As well go to the Arctic regions and pierce icebergs to discover warmth, as look to yourselves for consolation. Away, away, away, away from your own thoughts to God’s thoughts; away from your own judgings and weighings, and computations, and speculations, and expectations to the firm promises of a God that cannot lie.

*Excerpt from Medicine For The Distracted by Charles Spurgeon.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living — Psalm 116.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 10 (Listen – 3:12) 
Psalm 94 (Listen – 2:08) 

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Read more about Prayer for Enemies
Prayer is never lost. If it bless not those for whom intercession is made, it shall bless the intercessors. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Read more about Greed and Envy
The psalmist, is thrown into doubt and pushed to the limits of his understanding by the inequality he sees in the world.