The Lord remembers us and will bless us,
will bless the house of Israel,
will bless the house of Aaron,
Will bless those who fear the Lord,
small and great alike.
May the Lord increase your number,
yours and your descendants.
May you be blessed by the Lord,
maker of heaven and earth.
The heavens belong to the Lord,Psalm 115: 12-18
but he has given the earth to the children of Adam.
The dead do not praise the Lord,
not all those go down into silence.
It is we who bless the Lord,
both now and forever.
It’s easy to praise God – or at least relatively so – when life runs smoothly and we have few troubles. But when we are suffering one trial after another, what then? As I reflect on my life eight to ten years ago, I realize how straightforward it was to practice my Catholic faith. My perspective on theology was very simple, very linear, and hardly anything detracted from my solid beliefs.
When Sarah was born, I felt I was returning to basic questions that, in my mind, had been resolved when I was a child. The questions weren’t always formulated as actual questions, but instead were often phrased rhetorically, to no one in particular. I would ask myself, “Who is God, really? Why is all of this happening when none of it makes sense?”
Off and on these past several years, I have read scriptures, especially Psalms, that I once found very comforting. But when one is immersed in a strange sort of darkness, an interior desert where everything feels and seems hollow or upside down, even the praise of the Psalmists did not bring me joy – or hope.
A while ago, I was waiting in line to pick up our youngest daughter, Veronica, from preschool. It was a momentary reprieve from the stream of demands that happen when a mother has a large quantity of children, most of them very young. My mind landed on so many things that burdened me – from friends who had recently shared cancer or Alzheimer’s or kidney diagnoses, to the instability of the political climate in our country, to the imminent death of our beloved family dog, Lily.
And I heard a song on the Christian radio station based on Psalm 115. The music artist prefaced it with a brief interview, in which he stated, “Praising God is a decision we make in the midst of the unknowns.” It seemed oversimplified, yet I understood that, regardless of what is happening within or around us, God is good. Even when life is not.
Here the Psalmist says, “The Lord will remember us and bless us,” indicating that he is confident in God’s goodness. He acknowledges that faithfulness to God does not remove the possibility of suffering, but rather that it is the act of fidelity itself that draws us closer to God. This is what pleases Him, our returning to Him again and again, regardless of how we feel or what pain afflicts us.
There is hope in raising one’s heart heavenward and saying, “I know you are good, God. I don’t know what you are doing. I actually hate what is happening right now, but I know you are good.” That is why a Christian worldview is vital in these times. We must carry the resurrection in our minds and hearts. Without it, life – and faith – are meaningless. We have nothing to sustain us or make sense of the bad things in the world.
The Psalmist also says that “the heavens belong to the Lord,” but the earth He has given to the children of Adam. After that, he logically deduces that the dead cannot praise God (because at the time, there was no purgatory, of course), but only the living can. There is renewed fervor and devotion here, even an appeal to God.
Why would death be favored to life, then? The Psalmist wants us to think of such things, to be resolved to live more fully and to be drawn to what gives life, not death.
There are moments when all we can do is thank God for the fact that we are living, breathing, still standing. We don’t have to be strong. Our faith does not have to be unshakeable. The point is that, the weaker we are, the greater the chances of us thrusting ourselves to the heart of Jesus. We realize, when we praise God in the pit of hopelessness, that we are fragile and finite. We need a Savior.
And there are days when we can raise our eyes heavenward and, through tears, say, “The Lord will remember us and bless us.” Do we have to feel its truth? No. Do we have to see evidence? No. We simply look ahead to the resurrection and know that all endings have beginnings, that good can result from our suffering, that death does, in fact, lead to eternal life.