Asleep in Anxiety
Genesis 7, Psalm 3-4
There are wounded people all around the world. There are people whose lives are under constant threat from enemies. There are people whose lives are under constant strain of economic instability. There are people whose lives are marked by constant floods and the daily concern of what to eat and drink.
Enter Psalms 3-4. “Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me? Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’” We are entering the prayer of someone whose life is in serious danger. This is a person who says ‘tens of thousands assail [me] on every side’ (6). (Well, he says he will not ‘fear’ them, but even if its merely hyperbole, the point is the same: This is a person in serious trouble from other humans.) The story of Absalom’s rebellion against David is a terrible tragedy and David must have truly felt that the world was against him.
Still David can say, “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.”
As the reader of the Psalms, or the prayer of the Psalter, moves into Psalm 4 he is confronted with a similar situation. Here is someone calling out to God because he is in trouble again. “Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” I suspect that during much of the day such prayers are going up before God and I have no doubts that he hears all these cries of the oppressed. It could be that this Psalm speaks very poignantly to our current situation in America: “Many, Lord, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’”
Again, the Psalmist writes, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
I’m confused. I thought, and I could be wrong, that we smart people were supposed to stay awake all night long and worry about the turmoil in our lives? You know, like when the world (‘tens of thousands’) are rising up against us; or when the economy (‘grain and new wine’) is faltering. I thought we were supposed to struggle through these things, fill ourselves up with all sorts of anxiety and fear and turmoil and stress and allow these things to slowly dismantle us from the inside to the outside. I don’t remember anywhere being told that we should, let alone can, sleep during times of discomfort and distress.
Kind of makes me wonder if Noah ever had any sleepless nights, full of restless anxiety, while he was on the ark full of animals, his children, and his wife. Nah.
Asleep in anxiety? Can it be? At some point the Psalmist realized that he was in so deep, surrounded by so many, undone by so many struggling economic issues that if God would not rescue him or could not rescue him then he was hopeless. I think it takes just enough faith to allow us to sleep well. You might say there is a fine line between faith and fatalism. Still, it seems to me that when we don’t sleep well in the midst of all such turmoil it is likely because we are not trusting in God who is able to rescue us. (See Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel’s Gospel.)
Is it naïve of me to think that rest can come so easily? I don’t know. In Psalm 3, David is confident that the Lord will answer his prayers (v 4). In Psalm 4, David is not so confident (v 1-2). David sleeps either way. It seems to me then that there is a sort of faith that is even greater than the mere expectation of an answered prayer. That is, David puts his faith and hope and confidence in the God who hears prayers (4:3), not in the answers (either with thunder or silence) to the prayers.
It seems to me that there is a peace that transcends the circumstance and confounds the flesh. David continues to pray. Sometimes he hears the voice of God shake the world from ‘his holy mountain’ (3:4) Sometimes David has to keep beating on the doors and pleading for God to hear him while he is being humiliated and embarrassed (4:2). Still, David sleeps; rests.
I wish I had that sort of faith. I wish I had the sort of faith that could sleep well regardless of whether or not God answers the prayers. I wish I had the sort of faith that is more confident in God than in my ability to rattle the heavens with words and petitions. I wish I had the sort of faith that could sleep through a storm, or a flood, or an economic downturn.
These Psalms really challenge our ideas of confidence.