Psalm 85:9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
Surely salvation is at hand. Surely, a new day is coming. Surely, righteousness and peace will kiss each other. SURELY, the psalmist keeps saying.
We use English in ways that the psalmists did not use Hebrew. When we say “surely,” the word implies some doubt, or even a dash of the incredulous: SURELY you didn’t just insult me like that, did you? Surely you’re not going to go out without your mask! Surely, surely, surely.
We use the word “hope” in this way, too. “Will you get to go home for Christmas?” “Oh, I hope so, but it all depends, you know.” When we use the colloquial form of “hope,” what we really mean is “I don’t know.” It might happen, or it might not…it is what it is. We insert so much uncertainty into our declarations.
This is not how the psalmist talks. When the psalmist writes “surely,” they mean SURELY. This is not an expression of disbelief or outrage, it is a confession of sure and certain hope, confidence in the salvation that is already on the way. There might be little evidence of salvation on the ground, but God has promised it and that is the only evidence the psalmists need.
I would like to be like the psalmist, to snip out all the uncertainty from my language, from the world. There’s so much of it. How many people will die from COVID this month? We don’t know. Who will be infected next? We don’t know. Will we have hospital capacity to care for everyone that needs it? We don’t know. Will someone I love get sick? Maybe. Probably. Likely.
What will things look like once the vaccine arrives? We don’t know. How long will it take for the vaccine to take root? Unsure. Will enough people consent to vaccination to render it effective? We don’t know. When will I be able to eat inside a restaurant? Reply hazy, try again. Will we get to have Love Feast in 2021? Ask again later. How likely is it that we’ll see people who live across the country anytime soon? Uncertain.
Being a human in 2020 means being stuck in uncertainty. We think this is novel, like the virus that has forced so much of the mystery upon us, but it isn’t. The Psalmist who wrote those sure-fired songs of hope didn’t even know that viruses existed, how germs traveled, what a ventilator was, or how to calculate oxygen levels. Humans have always lived with unknowing; we’re just worse at it now than we used to be.
We know so much, now, connected to statistics and international headlines and combinations of explored genomes and cosmos that we walk around with a certain, low-lying hum of hubris about us. We are HUMANS. We know how to LEARN. We can ask QUESTIONS and DISCOVER answers! We are problem solvers in possession of gigantic brains. Who needs mystery when we’ve got data?
And, despite our exponential learning curves over the last couple of centuries and our newfound trust in math, we are still hunks of flesh subject to the mysteries of the created and evolving world around us. We do not know it all. We cannot solve every problem. We are contingent beings, not in charge of our own destinies no matter how many books we publish or disciplines we master.
“It is what it is,” we say, because we cannot imagine trusting the Creator to deliver us into anything better. This – the current reality – IS. Yes. But we should stop wringing our hands as if it were the only reality possible, as if the only way we know how to exist is in submission to evil. This SUCKS. It is brutal. We are broken, and grieving and floundering because we have been thrust into the deep, unsolvable mysteries of the holy.
The faithful response to grief and pain is not “whatever.” It is not “it is what it is.” A faithful response to grief, pain, loss and confusion is O GOD WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN US? And then, after our lament and confession, we say with the Psalmist: “surely, salvation is at hand.”