This post by Peter Morden was originally published at Seventy Two
Psalm 25: 1-11
The Christopher Nolan film ‘Tenet’ has been one of the movies of 2020. I went to see it with my son in a socially distanced cinema experience before the second lockdown began. It’s full of great acting, with John David Washington especially good value. It’s fast paced with some breathtaking scenes. There’s just one problem: I didn’t understand any of it. It’s important when talking about a film to warn about possible spoilers. Let me assure you there’s no danger of that here: I have no clue as to what was going on. Central to the film is the concept of ‘time inversion’. I think that means people go backwards and forwards in time. This leads to scenes being repeated over and over in subtly different ways. At one point, the John David Washington character ends up in a fight to the death with himself. Or is it with someone who just looks like him? Who knows! The film left me confused and disorientated, with a sense of being swirled around, unable to get my bearings. ‘Big, bold and baffling’ said one review. For me that just about sums it up.
Actually, that’s a bit like life sometimes. Especially now, in these Covid-19 times. This year has been relentlessly difficult. In lockdown or semi-lockdown loneliness and fear have so often been compounded by confusion. What are the different rules for different areas? Are we to stay in or go out or a bit of both? What tier are we in now and what does it mean? The questions are endless, the answers are hard to understand. Alongside this, there’s the loss of hope. We ‘hoped’ it would be over after the first wave, then by September, then by Christmas. But each time we’ve been disappointed, and as the book of Proverbs reminds us, ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick’. It’s a bit like my two hours at the cinema with Tenet. We can’t follow the plot, we don’t understand what’s going on, it’s like being swirled around…
What we need as we enter the season of Advent is a strong dose of real, biblical hope. Wonderfully, this is just the time in the church’s year that speaks of such hope. Psalm 25 is not often cited in connection with Advent but it deserves to be, for it speaks of finding bright hope in the midst of deep darkness. I encourage you to read it.
The Psalmist, David, does not find holding onto hope easy. You catch a sense of this in verse 2: ‘Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.’ This is an urgent plea. He essentially says, ‘Lord I trust in you but I’m struggling here. Don’t let me down.’ We may feel like this ourselves. Life is difficult and disorientating right now. We feel like hope has been repeatedly deferred. If this is us, the Psalm tells us we are not alone.
And, amazingly, the Psalmist not only stands with us but points the way forward. The urgent cry gives way to the confident affirmation of verse 3, ‘No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame.’ How is such hope discovered and how is it maintained? By focusing not on hope itself, but on the character of God and his promises of the future.
As to character, he is faithful, gracious, forgiving and good. Search the Psalm for these powerful truths, all of which are fulfilled for us in Jesus who is God our Saviour (v 5). No wonder the Psalmist holds onto his hope in such a God.
And what about his promises? Verse 13 is the antidote to my confusing Tenet experience. For we are not just being swirled around in life, and we are certainly not going backwards and forwards in time. No, rather than being in a never-ending loop, history is heading somewhere. Those who live their lives for the living God, will ‘inherit the land’. This promise is ultimately fulfilled in the new heavens and the new earth. At advent we eagerly anticipate the return of Christ and the ushering in of our sure and certain future. I invite you to say with David, ‘In you, LORD my God, I put my trust’. Our God will not let us down.
What will this mean for us right here and now in these difficult days? Will it mean we won’t get sick or won’t get made redundant? Will it mean my family will definitely stay well and that I won’t have financial difficulties? Does it mean my business won’t fail? For the asylum seeker, will it mean my application will be upheld?
The answer to all those questions is ‘not necessarily’. Sometimes God will spare us sickness, for ourselves or our loved ones, and will answer our prayers in other ways too. One of the asylum seekers we work with as a church in Leeds has just been granted leave to remain quite unexpectedly, even though hope of a good outcome for his case seemed lost. Our hopes for tomorrow are not always deferred, for we have a prayer answering God.
Such deliverance does not always come though, and we should not be surprised at this. We follow Jesus who entered a world of pain and then journeyed to the cross to win us the salvation of which this Psalm speaks. He calls us to take up our cross and follow him. But the Christian hope shows us he is someone who can be trusted and who will ultimately see us through. We have a future and a hope which is ‘steadfast and certain’. God clearly doesn’t mind too much about spoilers, for he has told us what is to come. The future is actually ‘big, bold and brilliant’. Hope in such a God and such a future makes everything seem different. Try it. If such hope truly grips us it will transform the way we live today.