In hillwalking days I tended to prefer the short cut. My route would cut out the drudgery of following the well marked path. The family recall this with no sense of pleasure. One occasion, when out walking by myself, I ventured on to a scree slope – it seemed the quickest way to the top. Half way up I found myself not in control of my feet. Every time I moved, the loose stones above me moved in sympathy burying me up to the ankles. I was having difficulty keeping my balance. I stopped moving. With no way up, and the other option an uncontrolled descent, I simply stood there, rueing my foolishness.
The singer of Psalm 26, though finally anticipating standing upon a level place, does not start the song with an admission of guilt. He has done nothing to deserve his predicament, which seems to involve a life threatening situation (v9). He cries out for justice, directing his plea to the one who is the guarantor of his life – the Lord in whom he has placed his whole trust – whose nature embodies love and truth (v3). He begs for mercy (v9) appealing to the only one who knows his inner desire to serve God to the best of his ability. If the song is a plea for mercy, it is also a complaint.: not a resigned cry, but an act of hope which refuses to accept the way things are. Because of his faith, the singer lays bare his inmost feelings about ‘those who hate your way’(v9) , and refuses to be lumped with those who deserve God’s punishment.
It is easy for us to baulk at such open complaint and assertion of innocence. Few of us have such an unfettered faith in our own blamelessness, so we address God much more cautiously. Even though deep in our hearts we may want to be totally honest with God we hold back from complete frankness (even though we admit God knows us better than we know ourselves). Such is our foolishness, and such is the strength of the psalmist, unhindered by such sophistry.
As for my ‘short cut’, well, by dint of changing the way I climbed (crab wise) , eventually I did reach level ground, and I did thank God.
Gracious God thank you for the directness and honesty of the psalmist of old, who trusted you enough to complain, and hope in your love and truth. May we be courageous in living, trusting for future days in your Son, who comes to us as a baby, our Saviour, friend and brother. Amen
The Revd John Young is a retired minister of the Synod of Scotland and a member of Giffnock URC.
Sing Psalms, Psalmody and Praise Committee Free Church of Scotland 15 North Bank Street Edinburgh EH1 2LS