Today is the one year anniversary of Jeferson's death...or, the one year anniversary of when we buried our friend. I was contemplating this today, looking at an old picture of Jeferson from 2003, his face young and innocent but already sprinkled with smile lines and the marks of a hard life. Opening my Bible, my eyes fell on Psalm 140. I'm including it here as I read it this afternoon, slightly modified:
"Rescue us, O LORD, from evil men; protect us from men of violence, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day. They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent's; the poison of vipers is on their lips.
Selah, let us rest in and praise the Lord.
Keep us, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; protect us from men of violence who plan to trip our feet. Proud men have hidden a snare for us; they have spread out the cords of their net and have set traps for us along our path.
Selah...breathe, for the Lord is good.
O LORD, we say to you, "You are our God." Hear, O LORD, our cry for mercy. O Soverign LORD, our strong deliverer-who sheilds our heads in the day of battle-do not grant the wicked their desires, O LORD: do not let their plans succeed, or they will become proud.
Let the heads of those who surround us be covered with the trouble their lips have caused. Let burning coals fall upon them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise. Let slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down men of violence. We know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Surely the righteous will praise your name and the upright will live before you."
As I read this psalm, I felt as if I was following Jeferson on that fateful day one year ago: entrapped, deceived, led into a massacre. I felt the futility of prayer...cries for mercy, for deliverance, that seemed to be brought to nothing but more senseless violence, evil and death. And I cried, reading for Jeferson a psalm that promised so much...because he was not protected from the hands of the wicked, or shielded from their schemes. Their plans did come to fruiton and they were proud. For a few bitter moments this afternoon, I was angry at God for the supposed promise of these verses, promises that seemed empty.
And then I read the last verse again.
The Lord does secure justice for the poor. But He doesn't say when. Or how.
All of my hopes and desires were pinned on this earth, on the here and now. I wanted to see justice done before my eyes, to see the cause of the needy lifted up in the place where I live, in the place where Jeferson lived, in the places where the poor are gathered. And yet it seemed to me as if God was saying, "No. You're reading the text wrong. Those are David's pleas to Me...protection, rescue, salvation. The promise in this psalm isn't protection from evil or suffering. That's what he wanted. That's what you want. But that's not what I promise you. Sometimes, I'll give you that. But the real promise is that the I AM is with you, that the I AM secures justice, that the upright will LIVE before me. It's in the future tense. It's not about this earth."
Oops. There I go, trying to work God into my comfortable web of manipulations, and I got caught.
But the truth is, reading this psalm with those new lenses makes it more powerful. Our desires for revenge can rest. Our worries can rest. We have the assurance of life before God...not just the short and fleeting life that the wicked scratch out for themselves before returning to dust...
And I rejoice, because I know that somewhere, before God, Jeferson is (or will be, depending on whose interpretation of the afterlife is correct!) worshipping and communing before the face of God. God brought him to his true home before me. And while I'm still sad, I know that sleeping on the streets of heaven has to be incomparably more blessed than sleeping in the grandest mansion here on this scrabbling little planet. Imagining him there, instead of on the dirty streets of Lapa? Joyful beyond words.