Psalm 86: Loving the “Not Yet”

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a conference on the thinking of Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, a French priest and theologian living in the first half of the twentieth century who integrated science and theology, as applied to the spiritual exercises of Ignatius. One of the concepts of Tielhard is loving the “not yet,” the potential, the future. We love people as they are now, but also love the potential that is within each of us, the “not yet.” It’s like saying the kingdom of God is among us and yet to come. It’s a both/and approach to life.

It occurred to me while reflecting on Psalm 86, that the writer is a good example of embracing the not yet.

Psalm 86 is a lament. The psalmist calls upon God to listen to him and answer him, “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.” (1) If this sounds familiar, it’s because this verse as well as a number of other verses appear in similar forms in other Psalms. The writer isn’t a flagrant plagiarist, but is familiar with the hymns of his time and uses them in his own prayer.

He is experiencing some form of trouble but what that is, isn’t clear at first. He asks God to save his life but it isn’t until verse 14 that we hear that he is under attack, “O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seek my life.” (14a)

He is confident that God will respond, “In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.” (7) His confidence comes from his understanding of who God is, “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.” (5) “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding steadfast love and faithfulness.” (15) And it comes from past experience of being delivered by God, “For great is your steadfast love toward me, you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.” (13)

He doesn’t question why God hasn’t come to his rescue yet, but humbly asks God to teach him so that he might know God better. “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth. Unite my heart to fear your name.” (11) He is so confident that God will help him that he gives praise with his whole heart, “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name for ever.” (12) He loves the “not yet”—the potential to grow closer to God through this experience.

The psalmist is experiencing a time of helplessness before those who would harm him. His only recourse is to call upon his God, trusting in God, yet this is a good place to be for our God is slow to anger and full of steadfast love. The writer reacts to his troubles not just with faith, but he sees it as an opportunity to grow in faith, embracing the potential in the situation.

John tells us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” (1 John 3:2a) We are already loved as God’s children, but that’s not the end of the story. We are still evolving, growing into the person we are meant to be. The writer of this psalm recognizes this. He realizes that he is a good, God-fearing person, “Preserve my life, for I am godly,” (2a) yet knows there is always more to learn. Hence he asks God to teach him.

When confronted with troubles, do we complain to God or do we embrace the potential in the situation? Are we open to being taught by our God?

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