The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 4, 2024
Ten-year-old Corrie Ten Boom and her father were riding the train to Amsterdam where he sold and repaired watches. As the train rolled down the tracks, she was reading a poetry book and came across the phrase “sex sin”. In utter innocence, she turned to her father and asked, “What’s a sex sin?” He studied her face, but said nothing at first. Then he stood up, lifted his travel case from the rack over their heads, and set it on the floor. “Corrie,” he asked, “will you carry this off the train for me?” She rose from her seat and tugged at it. But it was so weighed down with watches, spare parts and tools that she couldn’t budge it. “It’s too heavy,” she said. “Yes,” he replied, “and it would be a poor father who’d ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same with knowledge; some is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. But for now you much trust me to carry it for you.” That response satisfied Corrie completely. It was enough for her to know that her father had answers to this and all her questions. She was content to leave them in his keeping until the time was right.
God our Father and His ways are mysterious both because He’s so great and because we’re yet too small to understand it all. We’d do well to rest content with leaving many questions in His keeping for the time being.
David, the human co-composer of today’s Psalm, was a deeply spiritual man who knew God as well as anyone and who theologized about God and His ways with insight and wisdom. Yet, David realized God is so far above us that He exceeds the reach of our grasp and His plans are so vast and complex they defy the powers of our comprehension. Though grateful he’d come to know God truly and some of His plans accurately, David realized he knew God and His plans incompletely.
David exemplified that modesty of mind that arises from an appropriate awe over God’s greatness. Such modesty of mind admits limitations in its ability to understand God and His ways. That’s why David prayed, “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.”
David’s modest acceptance of his ignorance derived from his utmost reverence for God’s magnificence. This man of strong faith made peace with His extensive agnosticism out of the keen awareness of how God is too big to fit into even the biggest human mind.
This modesty of mind brought David happiness of heart. That’s why he compares himself to a “weaned child” lying in its mother’s arms and resting upon her breast. A weaned child has grown accustomed to food other than Mommy’s milk, and thus doesn’t fuss and fume about having it. A weaned child on Mommy’s breast can rest content just because she’s there, up-close and personal.
An un-weaned child is often anything but “calmed and quieted”, to use David’s phrase here. When hungry, it is restless and noisy, raising a racket until it gets what it wants. By contrast, the weaned child, is freed to enjoy Mommy’s nearness apart from its meaning the child might drink her milk. In other words, the weaned child has come to love the giver and not just the gifts she gives. That enables the weaned child to enter a new level of appreciation of Mommy. For she is no longer just the one who satisfies its needs, but a warm and wonderful person with whom a close relationship can be satisfying enough.
Sometimes we reduce God to no more than a “Need Meeter”. But if we get past our self-centered insistence on having what we want from Him when we want it, we can relate with God to a deeper and more delightful degree. We can, as never before, rejoice in God for who He is in Himself and not just for what He might do for us. And that makes us with God like a weaned child with Mommy: “calmed and quieted” – and wanting no more than His warm, intimate presence. His nearness settles our soul into a serene modesty of mind and uninhibited happiness of heart. We need nothing from Him for we need nothing but Him.
On his 39th birthday, poet Christian Wiman was diagnosed with an incurable form of blood cancer. It eventually destroyed his ability to walk and eat on his own; and it dragged him through pain so severe that, as he put it, “it seemed to incinerate all my thoughts of God and leave me sitting there in the ashes, alone.” Yet, the horror of those experiences didn’t kill off what faith he had but launched him on a journey that finally led him to know and appreciate God as never before. God never healed Wiman, but God did heal him of the need to be healed. For Wiman discovered, in God’s suffering servant Jesus, the friend who could miraculously console and uplift him when things got their worst.
Wiman says he found enduring joy and peace by learning that, because Jesus suffered to the utmost at Calvary, “God is with us, not beyond us, in our suffering.” Wiman came to see that what seems to be “the absolutely solitary nature of extreme pain is an illusion…Christ’s suffering shatters the iron walls around individual suffering.”
The weaned child of faith who rests upon the breast of the loving God who suffered for us and still suffers with us – the weaned child who stays present to God’s presence without the demand for any deliverance but from distance between the two of them – that weaned child experiences the comforting and fortifying nearness of the good God who participates in the totality of our life, from its best to its worst. That child knows the good God who shares in everything we go through and thereby brings us happiness of heart in all circumstances.
This side of the grave, God remains a mystery; but He remains a marvel of grace as well. This side of the grave, God’s ways don’t always add up on our computers or synchronize with our calendars; but God ever keeps “calmed and quieted” the soul of those who love Him like a weaned child with its mother and puts at peace the heart of those whose modesty of mind enables them to trust God even in the hardest times.
That’s why, in the Spirit, David now says to us what he once said to ancient Israel: “Hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore!”