Turn, O [God], save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise? – Psalm 6:4-5 (NRSVUE)
The psalmist is going through their normal Monday: bed awash with tears, bones shaking, soul melting, you know the drill. Then all of a sudden they pause their performance to give God a sly side-eye. “Do you really want one fewer person out here worshiping you? If I die, who’s going to praise you? It really would be best for all concerned – including you! – if you saved me.”
Unclear to me whether this appeal to the divine vanity is a good idea. Is God one of those gods who need worship to get through their day? But regardless: if the rest of the Bible is to be believed, God can absolutely be bargained with. Abraham does it. Moses does it. Jonah was mad that the people of Nineveh were probably going to do it. Jesus did it.
We talk, some of us, about longing for justice, balance. If what we mean by that is some divine fairness algorithm that operates only according to principles and never according to cases, then we’re going to be disappointed in the God of the Bible. Because that God is forever being talked back from being as tough as she said she was going to be, always being more merciful than originally threatened, regularly neglecting to enforce even their own contracts.
I’m so glad for a God that keeps the universe running the way it should. I’m even gladder for a God that sometimes makes the world run the way it shouldn’t, for the sake of mercy.
In Sheol, who can give you praise? Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is Chaplain of the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell University. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.