04 Jun Does G.O.D. Deliver?
Does G.O.D. Deliver?
May 26, 2019
M. Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church
So, where does God live? Would you believe me if I said, “Kearney, New Jersey?” That’s the impression people might have gotten as they drove by a certain trucking terminal in that city—until a few years ago, at least, when the company ceased operations. On the side of its building was a huge sign that said, “Welcome to the home of G.O.D.” which was an acronym for the company’s name—Guaranteed Overnight Delivery. In addition to their headquarters, the company had the slogan painted on the side of its trucks in huge letters. It also displayed G.O.D. on the trucks’ mud flaps. For years, those tractor-trailers caused drivers throughout the Northeast, to do double-takes, wondering, “Does God deliver?” as the trucks roared by.
f you were to ask that question of the writer of Psalm 91, the answer you’d likely get back is, “Well, yes, God does deliver, but not anything you can load on a shipping pallet. ‘Those who love me, I will deliver,’ says the Lord” (v. 14).
Fulfillment is a big deal in the world of business, particularly in the online retail industry, and in this context, “fulfillment” is another word for “delivery.” Amazon has built its reputation and made a fortune in the process by focusing an enormous amount of time and energy into perfecting the fulfillment side of the operations. Amazon’s massive warehouses are models of high-tech efficiency, utilizing human workers and robots. One source describes the bustling fulfillment operation this way: “The robots vaguely resemble giant beetles and scurry around with vertical shelves loaded with merchandise weighing up to 3000 pounds on their backs. Hundreds of them move autonomously inside a large caged area, tailgating each other but not colliding.”
On one edge of the cage, human employees—the “stowers”—stuff products onto the robots’ shelves, replenishing their inventory. The robots whisk those shelves away and when a customer order arrives for products stored on their backs, they queue up at stations on another edge of the cage like cars waiting to go through a toll booth. There, human “pickers” follow instructions on computer screens, grabbing items off the shelves and putting them in plastic bins, which then disappear on conveyor belts destined for “packers,” the people who put the products in cardboard boxes bound for customers. The U.S. Postal Service, Amazon Prime minivans, and even drones are then tasked with getting the boxes delivered within the promised time allotment. For years, Amazon Prime members received their orders within two days. Now Amazon is trying to cut that down to one, with next-day delivery promised for hundreds of thousands of items. They believe that timely fulfillment of your order and your expectations, will ensure loyal, repeat customers. It is a type of fulfillment that every other online retailer is trying to emulate, but no matter how successful any of them are, their ability to deliver a cardboard box to your front porch is nothing compared to the larger goal of spiritual fulfillment that we all seek in life. That is something only God can deliver.
It seems that a lot of the dissatisfaction and discontent people experience comes from misunderstanding the nature of God’s fulfillment and deliverance. In our instant gratification, expedited everything world, we complain if we have to stand in line for a couple of minutes or if it takes an app more than a few seconds to load. And when that attitude bleeds over into our relationship with God, as it so easily does, we confuse God with Amazon Prime, thinking we know what God should deliver, how, and certainly when.
The psalmist is right to try to correct our ego-centric nature. When he says, speaking on behalf of God, “Those who love me, I will deliver,” it becomes clear that what God delivers—or better, who God delivers—is not merchandise. It’s people. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone” (v. 12).
The psalmist’s focus here is not delivery to but delivery from—delivery from suffering. It sounds unambiguous, right? Believe in God, and God will keep you safe. Quid pro quo. Such a promise understandably has huge appeal which is why so many people seem to read it this way. But a deeper grasp of scripture, not to mention our own experience, quickly squashes any such shallow reading. Certainly, Jesus believed God’s promise recorded in this psalm, but that didn’t mean God spared his only Son from suffering. What God did was to bring Jesus through the suffering and out the other side, to resurrection.
Wendell Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow, contains a sort of parable about a hunter who gets himself into a very tight spot. On a perfect fall day, he steps onto the rotted wood covering an abandoned well. He plunges into the watery depths below, comes up for air, then grabs hold of the cool, mossy stones that line the side of the well.
Looking up, he sees a tiny circle of light, impossibly far away. There are no discernable handholds on the sides of the well. There is no point in calling for help, because no one is nearby. Berry writes, “How does this story end? Does he save himself? Is he athletic enough, maybe, to get his boots off and climb out, clawing with fingers and toes into the grudging holds between the rocks of the wall? Does he climb up and fall back? Does somebody, in fact, for a wonder, chance to pass nearby and hear him? Does he despair, give up and drown? Does he, despairing, pray finally the first true prayer of his life?
“Listen. There is a light that includes our darkness, a day that shines down even on the clouds. A [person] of faith believes that the Man in the Well is not lost. He does not believe this easily or without pain, but he believes it. His belief is a kind of knowledge beyond any way of knowing. He believes that the child in the womb is not lost, nor is the man whose work has come to nothing, nor is the old woman forsaken in a nursing home…He believes that those who make their bed in Hell are not lost, or those who dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, or the lame man at Bethesda Pool, or Lazarus in the grave, or those who pray, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.’ Have mercy.”
Berry’s story is truer to the meaning of Psalm 91 than the shallow, sentimental picture of a God who never allows anything bad to happen to us. Is this a psalm about escaping the everyday hurts and pain of life? Or is it, in fact, something deeper and more wonderful—a celebration of the powerful truth that, as those who are enfolded in the love of God, we can never be truly lost?
None of us needs to think very long or deeply to recall the stories of people we have known who have been inundated by the dark storm surge of undeserved suffering. Sometimes it’s our own story. Some have died before their time laid low by cancer. Others have breathed their last in crumpled wrecks of cars before the first responders could get to them. Still others have watched their dreams of happiness slip away, amid loss of work or divorce.
You can’t say of all these folks, “no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.” No guardian angel showed up in the nick of time so that they would not so much as dash their foot against a stone. Why? Is it because God had it in for them somehow? Because they had done something terrible that deserved punishment? Or maybe they just didn’t love God enough? After all the Lord does say, “Those who love me, I will deliver.” Tragically, there are people who read Psalm 91 and say this is exactly what the psalmist means. Let me say unequivocally, that’s a terrible misrepresentation of both the scripture and God.
What we know from our own experience is that while there is suffering that people bring on themselves, there is also suffering that simply has no explanation. It’s random, at least as far as we can see. It just is.
So, is all this talk in Psalm 91 about God’s deliverance just a passel of empty words? No, it’s not. Occasionally, God intervenes in troubling times, changing our circumstances in unexpected way. When that happens, we call it a miracle. But most of the time, God leaves our outward circumstances as they are and instead changes us—enabling us to discover reservoirs of faith we never knew had, support in places that surprise us, strength of relationships that grace our lives. This is a different kind of miracle, for who would have imagined at the beginning of such a season of suffering that we’d have what it takes to get through it? That there would even be unexpected blessing that comes from it?
As we walk with God through the bleak, uncharted landscape of pain, whether that pain is physical, mental, or emotional, we frequently find that the only way to do it is literally one step, one moment at a time. We find that as we place one foot in front of the other, God guides our steps. Together, God and us, we get through it. Very often, we emerge as stronger people than when we began the journey through the valley of pain and suffering.
Perhaps the greatest sense in which this psalm is true is a larger, spiritual one. It has to do with the question of where we ultimately end up: on the other side of death. As Christians, we believe life does not end with physical death. Death is a threshold by which we pass from life to life. We journey on, by the grace of God, beyond that doorway, because God’s deliverance is not limited to the number of times our hearts beat or our lungs inflate over the course of a lifetime.
The resounding promise of faith is that through faith in the risen Christ, there is a wonderful, unimaginable life beyond this one—a life hidden with God in Christ Jesus. Our journey with God gives meaning and purpose and shape to our daily experiences now, and the mystery of faith is that our journey will continue because God’s deliverance is eternal. Thanks be to God. Amen.