Be gracious, O my God, to whom I flee. I am oppressed, strong is my enemy, And all day long assailants harass me; They fight against me proudly. When I’m afraid, when fears of death enshroud me, I trust in God, who never disavowed me; His word I praise, He has with grace endowed me. What can flesh do to me?
They seek to harm my just cause all day long, And in their thoughts intend to do me wrong. They band together in an evil throng; They watch my steps and hound me. As they have waited for my life and bound me, So recompense those foemen who surround me; In wrath cast down the peoples who confound me, O God, my Helper strong.
My woes and wand’rings Thou dost count and see; Put Thou my tears, O God to whom I flee, Into Thy bottle and remember me When foes oppress and grieve me. Are all my ills, the sorrows that bereave me, Not in Thy book and shalt Thou not relieve me? My enemies are put to flight and leave me The day I cry to Thee.
W. van der Kamp, 1972 You can hear this to the Genevan tune here bit.ly/3grR17V
It is hard, for contemporary Western Christians to imagine oppression. The Church here is ignored not oppressed.
I think of my Iranian friend Armin who came to Christ as a result of a friend reaching out to him, telling him of God’s love after a relationship broke down. His new found faith was infectious and soon he was engaging in discreet evangelism – leaving tracts around in public places in Tehran and going to small prayer meetings at his friend’s home. One day he was late leaving work and when he got to the house where the prayer meeting was being held he saw his friends being arrested. He drove on, destroyed his phone’s SIM card, told his family he’d converted to Christianity and they, being comfortably off, paid agents to get him out of the country. He made his way to the UK as his cousin was here. Now Armin is a British Citizen and working hard to put something back into the UK which gave him shelter. I think of my Ugandan friend Ethel who was found by her family in bed with her girlfriend and marched naked through the streets into police custody where she was tortured and brutalised. With her mother’s aid she bribed her way out of custody and ended up in the UK. Now, again a British Citizen, she works helping refugees and managed to bring her girlfriend here under the family reunion scheme – though not without a court battle.
The Psalmist knew of oppression and the words of the Psalm bring comfort to those who are oppressed and who have faith – just as they brought comfort to Ethel and Armin. The words don’t take the pain away, they don’t make everything ok but they give comfort in a world which is harsh and brutal. The tune, which you can hear if you click on the link, was written in Calvin’s Geneva for groups of believers who also knew the reality and danger of oppression.
O God of woes and wand’rings, you see all the pain of our world. Put the tears of your oppressed people, into your bottle and remember them when they are oppressed and grieved by foes. Inspire us, O God, to open our hearts and our homes, our churches and our borders, to welcome those who seek sanctuary, as once Joseph, Mary and Jesus did. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston works with four congregations in and around Glasgow.