I'm forced to a third post in this impromptu series. What a surprise and delight. :-)
I don't believe that God needs to "break" us to make us useful. But I also believe that God intends to allow the worst things in life to happen to us, and then not necessarily to deliver us from them. Given those two contradictions, then what do I do with the 150 songs of God's deliverance David, Solomon and others gave us in the Psalms? In them broken men cry out to God for deliverance - presumably expecting something to happen. :-)
And God did it for them!
And yet my few little decades here say He doesn't usually deliver us.
The Psalms, and indeed the whole scripture, testify to God's perfect record of delivering.
And yet none of us is in circumstances that one would just exactly call, "prosperous."
The answer I propose is not original. In fact, it's a repetition for me to say it here, but I will repeat myself, because it is a necessary tie-off to this series. One can never end with the false assertion that God does not deliver, even if from one narrow perspective it's completely true.
What's interesting about my answer is that it has completely gone out of style in our age of tight theologies. Those of you with a theological background will cringe when I give it, but I will stand by it fiercely nonetheless, because it is true.
My answer is that we can spiritualize the Psalms to understand God's way of delivering us from our enemies. The psalmists all had enemies. We have three enemies: 1) our own flesh, 2) the flesh of those around us, and 3) the devil. When we read how God deals with the enemies of His people, we learn how He deals with our three spiritual enemies, even though the Psalms are written about the psalmists' physical enemies.
Sometimes God delivers us from oppression. Sometimes He delivers us within it. He always delivers us - the question is how.
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
The people were captives on account of their own failure to obey God, but they were God's children, and they were miserable.
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
And they had every right and responsibility to be miserable. To sing joyfully of their God and their home at this moment, at the request of those who enslaved them would have been evil.
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
And the psalmist says directly that it would be a sin to rejoice. Jerusalem is his highest joy, and without Jerusalem he can only be cast down. If, in a moment of weakness, he forgets his pain at being separated from God, he prays that he might forget how to sing entirely.
7 Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
"Tear it down," they cried,
"tear it down to its foundations!"
8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy are those who repay you
according to what you have done to us.
But the psalmist reminds God of His perfect hatred for those who imprisoned His children.
9 Happy are those who seize your infants
and dash them against the rocks.
And finally, the money line. This has been the sentiment burning in the psalmist's heart all along. This horrible sentiment is not a scriptural oddity, or a one-off tossed into the psalm at the end to finish some kind of rhyme scheme. This is the prayer God put into the heart of His servant. This is the feeling of anger welling naturally up within the heart of one yearning to be free to praise and worship the one God of the world. Everything else was the justification, the provocation. This is the message.
This is the word of comfort for someone made to live apart from his Lord.
Note that I do not take away from the literal meaning of the Psalm. It does mean with the psalmist meant for it to mean. But, it is also a window into something more.
Reread the psalm as an allegory. Think about Romans 7, and see Babylon as my chief religious sin - pride. The armies of Babylon are the many impulses of the flesh within me that feed that sin, and that lust after it, imprisoning me within my own pride. The children of God are the weak impulses in me to praise the law of God and to live to His glory.
The backstory of the allegorical psalm is that I grew more and more proud of my Christian gifts, so God pulled the protective influence of His Spirit from me. He left me to defend myself against the flesh and pride warring against His law within me - and I lost.
Now, the impulses of my pride expect me to be happy in God again. I remember how happy I once was, and my pride chides me to be happy again. But I throw down my harmonica. I will not sing.
Jerusalem is the place where I depend upon God. Egypt is the place where I trust to the world for security and pleasure. Babylon is the place where I'm proud that I can earn my own salvation. But Jerusalem is the place where God chooses to come to me, and to meet me. Jerusalem is where I humbly quiet myself and enter into His temple - into His rest. God's Hand weighs heavily on me now, and I will not pretend that all is well. I want to get back to Jerusalem, and cannot get there yet. It is the time to wear black, and go in mourning. If I should forget that I wait on God to deliver me from my sin, may I forget how to sing entirely.
In pride I lusted to raise myself up above others, and thereby to tear down to the foundations of what little humility God had granted me. In pride, I was glad the day the Spirit left off restraining me from trying to get my brothers and sisters to listen to everything I said. I remember how awful my sin was, and I long to see my own pride thrown down.
Happy day when the Lord mortifies my flesh. Happy the day when he bashes the brains out of the little prideful impulses that would otherwise one day drag me back into that captivity.
May the Lord forgive us who spiritualize. :-)
Sometimes, when we are sick and grow weak, the enemies grow strong within us. Sometimes the voices of our flesh shout down the voice of Wisdom within us. It is then that we pray.
Pray the double prayer.
Pray with all your heart that the sickness be healed. Pray that your strength return. Pray against whatever the calamity is in your life, and in the lives of all the saints.
But pray, too, that God scatter the enemies in your flesh. Pray, too, that God put to death - mortify - the sin and death that reign in your mortal body, and that He release your spirit to praise. Pray that He return your heart to Jerusalem. Pray that your love might answer boldly to His, and triumph over the sin that so easily besets us.
He always delivers. His kingdom comes every time we pray the double prayer. Sometimes His kingdom comes in glorious deliverance from circumstance, and sometimes it comes in glorious love seeing us through circumstance. Either way, it is to His glory, and for the good of His kingdom.
He always delivers.