Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Asking for it ALL

Imagine you are in a literal foxhole. Bullets flying over your head and your enemy encroaching upon you. Or to be less dramatic, you are suffering a terrible slanderous campaign against your good name. Everywhere you go people look at you and smirk, having heard the vicious lies someone is spreading. You feel helpless and are filled with despair.

Precisely at this moment of impending doom, God appears and offers you one wish, what would it be? I imagine you would relate to that which has been tormenting you for the past hours, days, weeks or months. "Just help me survive" or "defeat my enemies", or "clear my name from this slander".
What wouldn't you do? Ask for too much (you don't want to be a pig right? Get off topic (stay focused on the crisis at hand, right? Wish for general niceties when you are in the midst of a specific crisis, right?

Now let's look at the middles section of psalm 27, the 'one'request.

4. One [thing] I ask of the Lord, that I seek-that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of the Lord and to visit His Temple every morning.
5. That He will hide me in His tabernacle on the day of calamity; He will conceal me in the secrecy of His tent; He will lift me up on a rock.
6. And now, my head will be raised over my enemies around me, and I will sacrifice in His tent sacrifices with joyous song; I will sing and chant praise to the Lord.

Is that all? Some commentators try to soften the blow by explaining that the 'one' main request as sitting in the house of God and from there flow all the other ramifications--"if I experience Godliness then spiritually, physically, emotionally, etc., all will fit into place for me". The question I have is how he focuses on details in the requests--hiding me in His Sukka, lifting me up on a rock, overcoming my enemies, offering in the Temple festive offerings, singing a new song... How does one reconcile all these different and disparate goals into one neat request?

Moreover, where is the 'save me from my enemy'request? Hidden somewhere in the second verse. Should it not be more prominent?

I think David is teaching us a lesson. If the psalm is about faith, then having faith means relying on God. Relying on God entails the realization that God acts with great mercy towards His loved ones. Mercy entails acting against logic, against righteousness, against reason. If David is in a crisis, is it not due to his sin and is this not his punishment? If it is, then how can he ask for a reprieve? The answer I think is that we must humbly accept the judgment of our just king, but we must also submissively ask for mercy from our loving father. They are not mutually exclusive!

Once David realizes that he can allow himself to ask for ANYTHING from God, what is stopping him from asking for EVERYTHING! If he were to beseech God for survival alone, I would see it as a lack of faith in God that He cannot provide every need for David, physical, spiritual, emotional, existential...

David steps out of himself for a moment despite the bullets flying overhead and petitions God for the greatest goals, most lofty ideals and a perfect life.

Should he have asked for anything less?