Lions and Bears: OMG
I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who vindicates me.
God sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me—
God sends forth Holy love and faithfulness.
My soul is among lions;
I am forced to dwell among those who are aflame—
their teeth are spears and arrows,
their tongue is a sharp sword.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth. – Psalm 57:2-5
You’ve probably heard the old joke about the two hikers who encounter a dangerously hungry bear. One quickly laces on running shoes. “What are you doing?” asks the other. “You can’t outrun a bear.” “Don’t have to,” says the first. “I just have to outrun you.”
But God’s saving is different: vindication means that the promise of union with the Creator becomes real. The answer to those “who hotly pursue me” is not that they are themselves hotly pursued. God saves me from a worldview filled with pursuit and escape. God steadily reintroduces what fear has caused me to forget: holy love and faithfulness; covenant loyalty and truth.
Years ago I wrote an angry letter, full of righteous indignation at a perceived wrong, which didn’t include much holy love or faithfulness. I described the situation to my late father, and how I’d responded. “That’s strong language,” he said in his quiet way. “Did you accomplish your goal?”
Here in the psalter, the wisdom of the ancients describes a painful reality of human living, and the psalm rehearses its own attitude adjustment. The more often I exalt God — the more often I seek covenant love and truth as the alternative to hot pursuit — the better my chances of avoiding the territory of “lions” and “bears” in the first place. The more steadily I exalt the source of life and love, the less likely my fear will become the enemy that undoes me.
O God Most High, today may my soul take refuge in you. Complete what You have promised for me; send your love in action. Be exalted, O God; over all the earth be your glory. Amen.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.