Confessions of a Tottering Fence
Confessions of a Tottering Fence
Meditation on Psalm 62:3
by Cris Cramer
I'm looking at a section of Psalm 62 today, verse 3:
How long will you assault a man?
Would all of you throw him down--
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Not too inspirational on the face of it, eh? Actually, not really inspirational under the face of it either. Not the whole way down to the bottom, as far as I'm concerned. This is a verse that makes me think about the hard realities of life rather than the inspirations that help us overcome hard reality. Not pleasant, but necessary to come to grips with.
The literal words of the psalm seem to be referring to a specific situation, a real moment in time -- someone is in a tricky position, and others are waiting to take advantage. The next verse reads "they fully intend to topple him from his lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse." So dangerous times are at hand. The speaker of the psalm is facing enemies who want to ruin him in some way, and do it when he is already weakened. The writer knows his situation is precarious, he feels it sharply, and his words toward those who leap to take advantage are scathing.
On the surface, probably not something many people reading my words here can directly relate to, in the moment when they are reading it -- and if anyone can, then all blessings and strength to you, my friend! So for the rest of us, where's the relevance?
Part of human experience that is hard to face, a part we don't want to recognize, is that all of us are leaning walls, all of us are tottering fences. We don't like it and we don't want to be, so we find ways to prop ourselves up and feel secure. Which is understandable, and I think even admirable -- we need to feel secure in order to live and to be any use in the world. That's how we're made, and so we find ways to do it. But none of our props go far enough to make us really stable and strong. Not in a world that's too unstable, not in bodies that sicken and break and fail, not in relationships that none of us get right all the time. We can prop ourselves up, for a while. But then time moves on and the props kick out from under us, and we stagger.
In the moment I'm writing these words, very recent world events include both more and less peaceful demonstrations and revolution across several Middle Eastern states, and the horrible effects of earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand. They are the most recent entries in a long ledger of human conflicts and natural disasters that have wrecked lives and destroyed homes and livelihoods across the world. Who feels really stable in the face of such things? Can they absolutely never, ever happen in the place where you live, my kind reader? Are you sure?
We don't even need large-scale, dramatic disasters to feel our totteriness. Conflict rages in the midst of familes, fierce and bitter wars are fought there. Disease and weakness attack our bodies. People live alone and afraid. Much of the world we've constructed is impersonal and faceless, made out of screens and clicks and press-1-to-send-us-your-firstborn phone menus. We prop ourselves up as well as we can, and then reality rumbles through and knocks us down regardless. This is a fact of human existence, and it's hard. I would say it's a big part of what's wrong with the world.
So why am I going on about it? I'm making the situation sound pretty hopeless, which is not true and which is not my point. The rest of Psalm 62, much of the rest of the Bible, and a lot of other great human writings and work attest to the fact that it's not all hopeless. But without coming to grips with the reality of my leaning-wall nature, I can't deeply understand the hope and grace of the rest of Psalm 62. Without feeling how shaky I am when I stand on my own, I can't totally appreciate God's promise that I will never be shaken. If I don't accept that sometimes I get knocked down, it makes it harder to get back up, to let God and others help me up. Knowing how tottery we all are makes me want to work harder at helping other people find the security they need. The best possible props are leaning on other people. And the absolute best, the source of real and complete security, is to lean on God.
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Exactly. We must obey God rather than men. Acts 5: 29