Psalm 126 says:
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
But some who sow in tears never reap. Some who go out weeping return weeping, without sheaves, or never return; and some never go out, having no seed to sow.
My wife told me yesterday about parents in famine-stricken parts of Africa now who are giving their children sedatives to stop their crying in hunger, because they have no food to give them.
A psalm like this (Psalm 126) is not a flat claim that everything always works out well for everyone. Not even for everyone who speaks of or to the Lord. Written or read like that, such a psalm would be a cruel, stupid lie; it would be a weak opiate for weaker-minded people.
But it is not that. It is not about delusion (for those in trouble), or about complacency (for those who hear about the cries of those in trouble).
It is about remembering: remembering a time in the past when the Lord did something so unexpected and wonderful for us that we could hardly believe it and were flooded with joy.
It is about believing that the Lord is willing and able to do something wonderful again and praying, hoping, and vividly imagining that it will be so.
And not just praying, hoping, and imagining, “like those who dream,” but firmly trusting that it will be so—either in the visible and palpable physical realities of this life, or beyond.
The evangelistic imperative is not, as many of us were told, about getting those starving children and their parents to say a “sinner’s prayer” before they die because otherwise God Will damn then to an eternity of suffering in hell. Many of us abandoned evangelism when we matured sufficiently to be able to throw off that hideous blasphemy as the sick nightmare of minds that never accepted fully the teaching that God is love.
The evangelistic imperative, rather, is twofold.
Either way, it begins with recognizing that in the life and death of Jesus, God did something unexpected and wonderful: God came to dwell among us in fully human form, and taught and healed in ways that clarify and correct our understanding of the scriptures of Israel, and of every other pattern of thought and life, in the direction of better understanding and imitation of the God who is love. And God suffered and died among us in a way that sums up and draws into God’s own heart the pain and suffering of all who suffer and die without seeing in this life any divinely engineered reversal of their pain. And it—the evangelistic imperative, the necessity of spreading the good news of Jesus—is sealed, finally, by the story that this Jesus who lived and died also rose to life again, and still lives, and is rightly called Lord—and even “LORD,” the divine proper name of God invoked in this psalm.
Twofold: First, the imperative is to imitate the self-giving goodness of Jesus by doing everything possible and beyond apparent possibility to relieve the suffering of the world around us. What can I do, where can I go, what can I give, to bring sheaves of life-saving grain to those starving children and their parents, and to enable them in the future to sow and reap and rejoice in this life? What careers can our young people pursue that will beat back the darkness and extend peace and well-being in our world?
Second (or first!—never mind the order), the imperative is to tell the story of Jesus to the whole world in order to persuade everyone that God is love, and has done something wonderful in the past, and can be relied upon to do something wonderful in the end, so that it is right and good in this life always to hope, and to go forth bearing precious seed even when we must do so weeping. The imperative is to tell that story so well that those who have no seed to carry out will know that Jesus, who is Lord and Love, is their companion in their suffering, and that even if their suffering and weeping continues to the point of death, for themselves and their children, they can know that the resurrection of Jesus entails life beyond death also for them.
In short, the gospel imperative is to enable all to live in hope that is not delusion, to laugh not in folly but with joy, and to die in the knowledge that they will, in that joy, arrive finally at home.
What is the good news for you and me today? And what does the good-news imperative require of you and me today, and tomorrow, and in the ordering of the rest of our life?
May the Lord fill your mouth with laughter and your heart with hope and trust.
2 thoughts on “The good news in Psalm 126”
Thanks for your exhortation to hope as hopelessness encroaches from all sides like toxic gas from a shattered reactor. As a biblical affirmation I quote this: “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit.” I think it obviously right to bend the arc of the redemptive narrative in the direction of hope rather than fear. We’ve all suffered enough of that terrible, twisted bias have we not? You exhort to an indiscriminate, universal hope with the use of the word “all” in your conclusion. For the record, I think it is a beneficial corrective to the Reformed alternative: “the elect”, or “us Five Point Calvinists who recognize the Pauline ‘all’ to be modifiable and limited”. It is also much to be preferred to what I was nurtured in: “we Regular Baptists who use the KJV”. But yet. . . . is it not simply fair to admit that Paul does frequently narrow and modify his “all” to all races, genders, social, economic groups who “believe”, etc.? Is it not also fair to concede that though Hope is to fill us and is to be our default mode, it is not on offer without exception, without qualification, without, well, anything at all?
Having spent the better part of the past six years in the prophets, marinating in Hosea mostly, I repeatedly ran headlong into this immovable narrative object: the consistent, strident, desperately loving, ubiquitous shouts of warning to those whose idolatry would soon be punished by exile. It is the very exile the Psalmist above sings about with a proleptic joy, and whose return is the object of hope. Of course, one can easily evade this dilemma with Marcion’s facile dismissal of the angry OT God and the gentle Jesus as His replacement. Many do make the argument that the cross categorially emptied the bowl of wrath (the Day of the Lord), a trajectory I admit to finding nearly irresistible. That is until I turn away to read the NT and find mention of that self same Day in the context of an apparent great danger, which prompt threats along with an urgency that is palpable and, to be honest, troubling. Virtually an entire book (Hebrews) blares out indiscriminate warnings against slip-sliding and falling away. Its ear-spitting claxon shrieks seem designed to disturb the comfortable and force us to surrender an absolute, unperturbed, presumptive hope (like that of Israel who relied on her election, her temple, her shrines, her sacrifices, her obedience, her sincerity, and where that failed, on the kindness of a God who would not punish His favorites). Closing their ears the People of God were thrust into exile – though they returned (see above) but only some – “the remnant”, for the majority died in exile. And so, though I would happily be proved wrong, it seems to me that we (all?) who are called to live, work, serve and speak in hope, do so in an inescapable tension for it is a hope that is qualified, tempered, circumscribed by some very real, present and objective danger that we are urged repeatedly not to ignore.
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You refresh us with the gospel of the Kingdom–that whole-orbed reality in which we are invited (and yet struggle) to live. Bless you for this reminder of the rightful congruence of weeping and rejoicing, of holding space for the agony of what is not yet right while holding hope for all that is becoming. I sense this is the posture we are invited into as Christ’s followers: a fellowship of groaning in the Spirit while also laboring towards New Creation.
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