Monday, June 4, 2018

God has a bottle

I've been working my way through the Psalms for a couple months now. This morning I am reading and pondering Psalm 56. David wrote this one when he was in difficult circumstances, when his enemies had taken him captive and were debating how best to do away with him.

The psalm is full of David's confidence in God's love and power. It's good stuff to read. But I'm taken this morning by a line near the end of the psalm:

"You have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?"

I have to admit, the past year and a half, my life has included plenty of "tossings." Restless nights staring at the ceiling, fears of the past and the future, tears of shame and repentance and regret, longing for loved ones who are beyond reach ... tossings. Without exception, every day in all that time I've been in conversation with God, asking him to reveal himself, asking for guidance. Some days he has revealed himself in some significant way. Other days the heavens seem to be plastered over, closed off, locked up. More than anything else, he has found many ways to tell me he has not abandoned me. He's good like that.

Make no mistake, the evidence of his love and care, when I look around, is overwhelming. There is so much good in my life, and I give God full credit for every bit of it. He has been so faithful, so loving, so generous. Yet my days and nights are still, so often, full of tossings.

That's why it's comforting to me that God has a bottle. (Okay, I got into a long conversation yesterday about interpreting the book of Revelation, and the person I was talking with was quite concerned with what could be taken literally and what was symbolic. So let me say, I don't think it's helpful to get hung up on the literal nature of this bottle and how God fastens the lid / cork / cap / stopper on it, and where he keeps it ... does this mean God has shelves and pockets? Let's not go there. The bottle can be symbolic for the moment. But given our nature as incarnated beings, we need physical reality and it might be helpful just to imagine God having a real, physical bottle right now for the sake of argument without getting caught up in the metaphysics of whether it's an old mason jar or a beautiful alabaster flask.) And that bottle, according to David, is where God saves your tears. They don't fall without him paying attention. They don't drop from the curve of your cheek to the dust without God's knowledge, without his intimate attention. They don't just soak into your shirt-sleeve and evaporate, leaving a tiny trace of salt in the fabric. God tenderly holds your tears.

In my symbolic / literal mind, this means that all your angst, all your frustration, all your grief, all your longing, is tended and stewarded by God. This is a deep facet of his love for you. Like an attentive lover, God is paying attention, caring for your heart, caring for your mindset and your frustration and your hopes. He holds every twist of your tossings, every track of your tears.

And he does not squander them. It's not that God is just aware in some kind of banal benevolence. He is actively working out the details of your life -- engineering them, to borrow Oswald Chambers' phrase -- including all these uncomfortable bits, for the sake of a greater good that will bless you and bless the world through you. That's what God does. While we like to read the Bible for the sake of all the good parts, by which we mean the parts that tell us what we want to hear, the evidence in scripture is overwhelming that God is in the business of taking your sufferings and making something good out of them. In fact, that might be one reason he allows them in the first place. God could have prevented David from falling into the hands of the Philistines, but he allowed it -- and then he delivered David, proving his own goodness and increasing David's trust in him and strengthening David's capability to serve as an excellent king for his people.

God is doing things in your life. Part of what he is doing is that he's saving up your current frustration, your current fear, to build greater things in your and in the world. Because that's what his love does.

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