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As you look closely at the beginning of this psalm, you’ll find that it doesn’t say, “I am happy at all times,” but “I bless God every chance I get.” (34:1)
These aren’t the words of a person whose moods are always ebullient; they’re the words of a person who has simply decided to speak a blessing every chance she gets, determined to be ready to give thanks in all things. The reason, of course, isn’t because she feels great but because she believes that God is working through all things to bring forth good. (See Romans 8:28).
Do you think of the Christin life as something that lifts you out of the realm of the mundane into something more majestic? If so, you’re wishing in the wrong direction. The Christian faith draws us deeper into the stuff of creation: bodies, money, emotions, relationships. Some of the stuff we see is awful. And some of the stuff we feel is painful.
But is it precisely there, in the awfulness and the painfulness of life, that we discover something that transcends these things. In Psalm 34:18 the psalmist say, “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there.” The times the psalmist lived in were not all that different from our own times. Back then, as now, there was a pseudo theology that explained any kind of misfortune as a sign of divine punishment, whether that punishment was sickness, poverty, disability, or death. The sufferer’s recourse was either to avoid the gods or to strike a bargain with them so that they would back off.
The ministry of Jesus was the great refutation of this. He deliberately singled out every kind of trouble and initiated a healing ministry to the sick, the guilty, the hungry, even the dead. The single qualification for being eligible for God’s help is that we be in trouble. The reason we’re in trouble doesn’t matter, whether it’s our own fault or someone else’s. What matters is that God is right there in the midst of our troubles, stopping to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and put them back together.
(Eugene Peterson, taken from his comments on Psalm 34 in The Message)
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation