Walk On

Putting one foot in front of the other is difficult some days.  Robert Robinson was the 18th century Cambridge pastor who penned the famous hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  The positive nature of the song seemed not to reflect his hard, later life.  The story is told of his en­count­er one day with a wo­man who was stu­dy­ing a hymn­al.  She asked how he liked the hymn she was hum­ming. In tears, Robinson replied, “Madam, I am the poor un­hap­py man who penned that tune ma­ny years ago, and I would give a thou­sand worlds, if I had them, to en­joy the feel­ings I had then.”

When I hear that story I think of the phrase in Robinson’s song ”Prone to wander, Lord I feel it / prone to leave the God I love.”  Another hymn writer, William Cowper, seems to have been cut from the same cloth.  Depression dogged Cowper all his days.  “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” is one of Cowper’s songs.  The phrase “Behind a frowning providence / he hides a smiling face” reflects, perhaps, the two-sided perspective of a man battling his own inner turmoil yet trusting the “fountain filled with blood, flowing from Emmanuel’s veins”—the hymn for which Cowper is best known.[1]

Response to suffering and agony take many forms.  We feel what we feel intensely.  We cry out with the Psalmist as he did four times in a row “How long, O Lord?!”[2] The writer does not question God’s intervention but His delay–why are you taking so long?!  We suspect the loss of God’s nearness.  God has not left but we do not sense the shine of His face on us any longer.[3]

“I have suffered much.”[4] Let that statement hang in the air for a moment.  There are those of us who feel that suffering every day: fingernails scraping across the blackboard of life.  Screeching matches our latch on to the Psalms in our cries toward heaven.  “I have suffered much” comes from Psalm 119:105-113 capturing some of Robinson and Cowper’s sentiment.  While the source of suffering comes from without, this verse indicates an inner unrest: an affliction eating at us which was caused by others.

Note the context.  The previous verses suggest there are “evil” and “wrong paths.”[5] Indeed, the wicked set snares on them.[6] Fighting internal turmoil because of external havoc, the writer says he takes his life in his own hands[7].  Earlier he declared “I am laid  low in the dust” after “they almost wiped me from the earth.”[8] We face opposition, hatred, suppression, or oppression from others.  Walking this life is hard.

So how do we make it down the road?  The “lamp” which is our light from the famed Psalm 119:105 is not a general comment about Scripture’s illumination.  In my study, I have a set of lamp reproductions based on finds from various archaeological digs.  All these lamps would fit in the palm of a normal human hand.  The single wick gave off scant light; perhaps enough to see the next step or two on a moonless night.  Sitting on a lamp stand, the candle-like quality could function as a night light for us, at best.  In contrast, our 21st century mindset thinks “lamp” equals a halogen headlight, casting a beam hundreds of feet into the murky darkness.  The Psalmist celebrates no such thing.  All we have is a lamp which gives enough light for us to know the next step we take.[9]

Our life’s walk is based on Scriptural trust in things we cannot see.[10] If we are serious about walking down the path set by God, we must have no illusions about understanding why our present circumstances may be so hard.  This section of the Psalm[11] concludes with the writer saying he will follow God’s Word “to the end.”  Until our mission on earth is complete, we continue walking with the light of Scripture that tells us only what we need to know.[12] In theological terms “the perseverance of the saints” teaches in part that we bear the responsibility of obedience without expectation of certain outcomes.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese activist who protested her government’s treatment of its people.  While marching with some of her supporters one day, soldiers blocked their path, leveling automatic weapons at the group.  Suu Kyi kept walking, despite orders to stop.  John Boorman made the woman’s suffrage a focal point of his 1995 film Beyond Rangoon. The famed Irish rock band U2 created a title commemorating Suu Kyi’s simple action: “Walk On.”  No phrase better represents Robinson’s, Cowper’s, Suu Kyi’s or my passage on earth in the midst of suffering than that we walk on.

Dr. Mark Eckel enjoys U2 and joins them in calling for justice based on His Justice.

[1] John Piper. 2001. The Hidden Smile of God. (Crossway): 80-119.  This chapter is quite disturbing in that Cowper was given to suicidal tendencies.  Piper’s fine research, however, cautions us not to cast aspersions, nor jump to conclusions because of a man’s mental state, about a man’s eternal state

[2] Psalm 13:1-2.

[3] Numbers 6:24-26.

[4] Psalm 119:107.  The Hebrew word “much” has the idea of very, great, exceeding, or totally, most well known for its use in Genesis 1:31 “God saw His creation—it was very good.  For the mathematician, the idea may be best communicated by the phrase “to the nth degree.”  The word “suffered” (NIV) is from the Niphal stem suggesting a reflexive, self oriented idea.  To be self-afflicted could mean, as some commentators suggest, contrition or humility in repentance.  But the context indicates no personal sin, rather outside persecution.  Hanah means we are brought low, knocked down; in some ways, humiliated by our circumstances.

[5] Psalm 119:104; see also v. 101.

[6] Psalm 119:110.

[7] Meaning he is in jeopardy of losing his life: Psalm 119:109; Judges 12:3; 1 Samuel 19:5; 28:21; Job 13:14.

[8] Psalm 119:25, 87.

[9] Solomon agrees that God’s teaching is a lamp giving light leading down the way of life: Proverbs 6:23.

[10] Hebrews 11:1-16.

[11] Psalm 119 is an alphabetical Psalm, divided into the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  If read in Hebrew, each verse in a given letter’s section would begin with that letter.  Verses 105-113 begin with the Hebrew letter “nun” or “n.”

[12] “To the end” can mean consequence or reward at the end of life.  Psalm 19:11.  Derek Kidner. 1975. Psalms 73-150. TOTC. (IVP): 425.  But the context seems clear that the Psalmist intends he will continue on through to the end of his lifetime (Psalm 119:33, 44).

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