Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Enemy of Soul

Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! (Psalm 143:9).

David had enemies. Real enemies. The kind that lurk in the dark with both the intent and the capacity to do you harm. The kind that draw blood and leave you for dead; the kind that lie to smear your name or cheat to leave you bankrupt. There’s nothing theoretical about the damage they can do. From the moment David heard the cursing taunts of the Philistine giant, David knew he had an enemy. From the moment Saul hurled his spear at David’s singing face, David knew he had an enemy. This was simply a part of life, and he learned this early on. It never changed.

When you know you’ve got enemies you learn to keep your eyes open. You discern their presence intuitively because your life depends on it. To listen to David’s prayers it seems that he had grown adept at naming his enemies, and not just the cursing giants and half-crazed kings. David knew the insidious presence of other enemies, and we would do well to learn from him. The soul has enemies. Real enemies. And they are alive and well in metro Atlanta.

I’m reading Psalm 143 this week. There’s plenty of standard enemy language here, but reading it this morning I started to wonder about who this enemy is. What is the prayer dealing with? The enemy language blends with prayers for the well being and preservation of the soul. The soul, the deepest part of the self, is being threatened. That’s what Psalm 143 is about. Or is it? Sure, the enemy that wants to cut your throat can also play havoc with soul and spirit. Soul health isn’t abstract and ethereal. The steely blade that opens your jugular can also tear at your soul. But the language of Psalm 143 suggests a particular concern for the dangers confronted in shadowy interior places.

For the enemy has pursued my soul (v. 3)

My spirit faints within me (v. 4)

My soul thirsts for you (v. 6)

For to you I lift up my soul (v. 8)

Bring my soul out of trouble (v. 11)

Every Monday morning I meet with a group of men for prayer and talk mingled with Bible reading. Yesterday we were joined by Maqsood Kamil, the head of the Presbyterian Church in Pakistan. He is also professor of theology at the seminary in Gurjanwala. Yes, there is a seminary in Pakistan. Maqsood’s presence with us for an hour, the chance to listen to him and ask questions, this was a great gift to us. He lives his faith in a very difficult and hostile setting. He understands enemies. Real enemies.

And as he talked with us I think we all became increasingly aware of how easy it is here. We have our stories about gunmen who storm into schools and churches; we know that terrorism is a real threat in our land. But in the conduct of daily life we still assume safety. This is the “normal” we insist on maintaining even in the age of terrorism. It is an assumption so closely connected with our notions of freedom that we cannot let it go. We walk the streets and go to school and drive our roads with the assumption that we will accomplish whatever we have on our to-do list for the day.

In some ways the absence of enemies is itself our great enemy. Maqsood remarked that when every meal is provided for and easily obtained, the prayer “give us this day our daily bread” doesn’t have much meaning. Of course, we can pray it in our wealthy churches, but those who have little food, or who don’t know where a meal will come from, they pray it differently. I don’t have answers to the questions that confront the church given its affluence. Folks like Ron Sider have thought long and hard about it. Not me. I say that to my shame.

Right in the center of Psalm 143 are the words “my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.” Thirst and hunger are by definition rooted in some kind of lack, a deprivation. It may seem that in a place like Pakistan the enemy has the upper hand. Perhaps, in the land of plenty, where there is little or no hunger and thirst of soul, the enemy has in fact already won.

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