I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 27.13 NASB
This verse has been both a balm and thorn in the side of a friend who is going through a trial that has no end in sight. Is it a promise? Is it a resolve to see God’s goodness in each day that is full of sowing and weeping (Psalm 126) rather than exulting and reaping?
Every day I read the Psalms. Sometimes nothing else. Some days that feels like I am in occupational rehab – learning how to walk – and I’ll never graduate. Other days I do this without apology (to God or myself), because I know “this is the way.” The Psalms were the prayerbook of Jesus and if I want a Jesus shaped life, I need to be “restoried” by these songs written in tearful hope, in blackest ink on a black page, with only a distant light casting the shadow of my Suffering Servant Savior on my sin burnt heart. My friend wrestles with this verse because we often look to our story’s ending for hope – no more tears, all things new. We don’t know how to find the hope in the middle. A good bit of this can come from evangelicalism’s focus on “last things”, and “end times.” We often think only eternity will fix what is wrong here – “earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.”
The timestamp on hope
The future hope of the Psalms wasn’t in the bye and bye – as our verse above says – “I look for his goodness in the land of the living.” The reason why we struggle with finding hope in history versus eternity is because history is a mixed bag – it’s authored by a sovereign Lord who uses all manner of means and villains and devils and saints to write this story. The redemption that the Psalms focuses on is “this poor man cried, and he heard.” We see the goodness of God in the land of the living, not by being transported to a different land or a different time. We see the goodness of God and don’t despair in this zip code, in this pandemic, in this uncertainty, because this is where God does his work. This is where his people begin to inherit the “blessed be’s” of the Sermon on the Mount – singing the songs of Zion in a strange land through tears where we catch a vision of “God is here and I knew it not.”
The gift without a bow
This verse is not the bow tying up our story in a neat ending. It is the scarlet cord we grasp as we walk through a whiteout of today’s unfavorable conditions. I remember only one story of my grandmother’s childhood. She lived on a farm in rural Wisconsin. There were cows to be milked, even in a blizzard. When the world was white on white how would you find the barn? The rope. Tied between the house and the barn. Though eyes would deceive, the rope would not. A rope tied in a bow will not help. A rope stretched between our current home and the God who holds the thread of history is the tether for the untethered, for the snow-blind tear-streaked face. I would have despaired if I had not believed that I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.