“ He has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city”–Psalm 31:21.
My Dear Beloved Ones in Christ Jesus Our Lord,
Over the weekend my eyes caught one of those frequently occurring headlines detailing the humiliation and discipline of yet another university professor (who may still be fired pending the outcome of an ‘official investigation’). As is usual these days, the educator in question committed the unpardonable sin of causing some of the students to feel ‘unsafe’ in a classroom environment, this time at the University of Michigan.
To be more specific, his unspeakably horrific crime was showing the 1965 film Othello (starring Sir Laurence Olivier) in his class on the plays of William Shakespeare. In the movie, Olivier plays the part of Othello, and appears with his (naturally white) skin darkened by theatrical makeup in order to represent the Moorish background of Shakespeare’s famous character. Students complained to the school’s administration that such action violated their sense of security. As one of the professor’s students commented, “ I was shocked that [the professor] would show something like this in something that’s supposed to be a safe space.”
Of course, we are understandably amused and righteously indignant at such thinking that has now become standard operating procedure in many American universities. Exposure to ideas and concepts that challenge the student’s assumptions is strictly forbidden as it violates the sacred space reserved only for groupthink and psychological security.
Providentially, earlier that same day I had also read the words from Psalm 31 quoted above, and I could not help but make a very important connection in my mind.
When David (the author of this Psalm) recorded these inspired words he was reflecting upon an event detailed in 1 Samuel 23:1-14. King Saul was after him, boiling over with hatred and determined to kill the rival king of Israel. Verse 8 tells us that, “ Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men.” It was there in that city called “ Keilah,” which was in the midst of a vicious attack, that David experienced the “ wondrously” sweet and persistently “ steadfast” faithfulness and “ love” of his sovereign God.
There is, I think, both instruction and encouragement here for us on this new Monday.
As for what we learn here, the lesson of Psalm 31 (be sure to read it all) seems to be that if safety is our first concern as Christians, we will be no more virtuous nor mature than those students at the University of Michigan.
In one very real respect, every one of us lives in a “ besieged city.” The earthly “ city” where we reside for now is always under attack and full of imbedded adversaries. Yet, this is where our mission is. This is the theatre of our discipleship, of our corporate worship, and of our public service to the eternal City of God. By definition, it is not a ‘safe space,’ and it never has been.
In this present kingdom we are, to use Paul’s blunt language, “ afflicted in every way . . . persecuted . . . struck down . . . always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:8-10). If we are waiting for things to be ‘safe’ before we come to together in worship and then depart into the world to serve our King, we will be waiting for a very long time indeed! As Jesus warned us, “ In the world you will have tribulation” (John 6:33). Such will be the case until our Blessed Savior comes again.
Perhaps I could put this in terms that express my biggest concern for our flock today.
What we are presently up against in our part of the world, in our quadrant of the “ city,” is relatively benign. The adversaries that besiege our city are not severe at all when compared to that which other believers around the globe are experiencing. The risks we face are rather tame in comparison to arrest, torture, or martyrdom, for example. For this we praise the Lord! But a pesky question keeps popping up in my mind:
If the comparatively mild dangers of today are keeping us from being faithful to our duties as believers in Christ, then what’s going to happen to us when real persecution breaks out tomorrow?
Now for the encouragement.
Let’s remember what David shows us here. While we are never ‘safe’ from all dangers in the “ besieged city,” and while we will be facing all kinds of tribulation as Jesus promised us, it is in this same assaulted “ city” that our Father will “ wondrously” show us His “ steadfast love”! For sure, ours is not a ‘safe space.’ But it is the very space where God’s love is most powerfully given and most meaningfully experienced!
So the choice before us is safety, or a much richer experience of God’s love and sufficiency? Will it be faithfulness to Christ and to His commands, or the ghostly illusion of security that the lost people of this world are seeking? Would we rather be safe, or know that we are loved and protected by our Sovereign God even on the battlefield where the “ flaming darts” of the evil one fly incessantly (Eph. 6:16)? Are we setting up the next generation of Christians to make an idol of safety, or to courageously worship and faithfully witness in a city that is always in the line of fire?
My Dear Brother and Sisters, in these days of persistent adversity let me encourage you to trust in the One who loves you and who always has your well-being in His heart! Let us not make an idol of safety and ‘safe spaces.’ Let us be faithful in the power of His promise that He will walk with us, even through the fiery furnace of affliction and danger!
I love you all so very much!!