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A psalm for facing the unknown

Rev. Dee McIntosh, chaplain | Mar 22, 2020

Many great fears in life come not from what we can see but from what we can’t. We are often consumed with the fear of the unknown.

highway in the middle of the dessert with mountains in the distance

The Israelites knew quite a bit about fear. Each year, they traveled from their homes to faraway Jerusalem, many of them by foot, for one of the three major feasts. Jesus himself made the treacherous trip from his own hometown many times, walking (or riding) more than 90 miles each way. God told them to go where his presence was (1 Kings 8:10-11), but the road was dangerous and full of uncertainty.

Along the road, the people met threats above below, most of which they could not see or predict. They were fully exposed to scorching heat and volatile weather. Robbers hid in the caves and hills, knowing exactly when to expect their victims. The people knew they had to go, but they didn't know if they would all make it. Surely, some didn’t. So, they felt fragile, vulnerable, and often unsafe.

This road we call life if also full of uncertainty, as the news of new cases of the coronavirus continues to spread. We are facing a new political season that has many among us experiencing anxiety and dread. And, our everyday ailments like aching hands, chronic pains, and declining health may also lead us to feel fragile, vulnerable, and full of uncertainty.

When God’s people felt their need for keeping along the road to Jerusalem, they did not cover their mouths in fear; they raised an anthem. They cried out with hope into the uncertainty, drowning their fears with verse and chorus. They sang against danger.

Psalm 121 was a song for rough and uncertain roads like these. The refrain over and over again in these eight verses was the Lord can and will keep them. The psalm was written because the long and lonely road to Jerusalem was dangerous, and because the long and often lonely road of our lives can be full of uncertainty. The vulnerability and fragility in these verses describe the very world we live in today, the world in which we still feel our need to be kept.

You can sense the insecurity in the opening line: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” (Psalm 121:1). We don’t know what was in the imagination of the writer, but, either way, these hills made the writer feel small, vulnerable, and helpless.

And yet the writer of Psalm 121 sang against the danger.

If you do feel your need for keeping, if you feel your vulnerability rising, then take heart. Jesus prayed, and continues to pray, for your keeping: “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name” (John 17:11). You have an inheritance “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” God is keeping for you. And know God is keeping you even now. In this very moment.

“The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” Are you willing to sing against the danger and the uncertainty, singing a psalm of faith?

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