April 5/Fourth Friday of Lent
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. When the poor one called out, the Lord heard, and from all his distress he saved him. When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. ~ Ps 34:4,6,18
It is not always blindingly evident that God hears our prayers. In our personal lives and in the far-flung world, there seems to be endless suffering and turmoil in spite of our fervent petitions. We pray for a friend to be healed, and she dies. We plead with God to grant wisdom to our governmental and religious leaders, and they continue to mangle the body politic. We watch as villages are bombed and civilians caught in the crossfire of war, “helpless before history,” as the millennial and erstwhile pilgrim Guy Stagg wrote in his absorbing book The Crossway.
One of the central challenges for any believer is to confront God’s role in the evil that happens to us and around us. Now I am no theologian, and cannot offer a satisfactory explanation for life’s suffering in the context of an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God. But I do know this, and today’s psalm richly affirms it: God is with us in the midst of that suffering, standing with us and beside us in every moment of our pain. Engulfed in sorrow or distress, we may not feel his presence, but he is there nonetheless, walking through that deep dark valley and surrounding us with his love.
As the wonderful Breastplate of St. Patrick has it, “Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me. . . Christ beneath me, Christ above me.” Three times today, Psalm 34 underscores the compassionate intimacy that God offers us. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me.” “When the poor one called out, the Lord heard.” “When the just cry out, the Lord hears them.” Three variations on one theme: God hears and responds to our pain with his loving, healing presence.
Lord God, creator and preserver of us all, hear me when I cry out to you, and be with me in times of confusion and pain. Amen.
For today’s readings, click here.
To hear the Hymn of St. Patrick from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, click here.