COLUMN: The Lord is gracious and merciful

Published 9:01 am Sunday, August 13, 2023

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Nearly all of us have, or at least have participated in, some kind of meal-time “Blessing” tradition. Children the world over have been caused to memorize and recite a prayer before meals, although there probably is no “right” or “wrong” way, it seems.

Maybe the most common in the Western world goes like this. “God is great, God is good! Let us thank Him for our food. By his hands, we are fed. Bless us lord, our daily bread. Amen. That’s a traditional Christian blessing. 

I had a relative who was called upon once at a large family gathering to ask for a blessing before the meal. In the get-what-you-asked-for spirit of things, some of the more devout relatives were left with their mouths open when my Mom’s colorful uncle Bill exclaimed, “Good Bread, good meat, I’m a Baptist, let’s eat!” as his offering to God on our behalf.

John Claypool, the great preacher and seminary teacher of preaching, used to offer this simple blessing when called upon at mealtimes: “Thanks be to God, He did it again!” 

Scholars believe that Psalm 145 is exactly that—a traditional table blessing that Jewish families shared. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. Can you hear the rhythm?  The spirit of its use to give thanks? 

This psalm was taken seriously. A Hebrew inscription in the Talmud instructed worshippers to repeat this psalm three times every day. Do you ever stop your busy life long enough to ponder the greatness of the Almighty? The one who brought all of life into being and sparked the miracle of life. 

These are big-ticket musings here. These have not emerged from shallow, feel-good faith. Although, oddly enough, hearing oneself read these words aloud does feel good.

Heavy theological affirmations are being made here. This is not a statement of casual faith. Instead, the person who writes these words, any of us, who would recite these words, are called upon to take them seriously. 

Words of our faith have that power, if we pay attention to what we are reading or saying or singing. But is this psalmist right? Can these words about God be trusted? Can they be lived by? 

No doubt you’ve noticed that some words reach farther than others do. We call some of them “absolutes.”  Everything mature, experienced or educated in us cautions us to use them sparingly. 

We remind each other, “Never say never.” Then occasionally life reminds us of why maybe that’s wise. 

Words like “always,” “all” or “every” are rarely proven to be true and final. But, we throw them about as though they are. The psalmist peppers this text with those kinds of words.

Words like “every,” “all” or “each” are found throughout. With them, some tall promises seem to be affirmed. In verse nine, “God is good to all” is a big statement to believe. When it’s about all your friends, it’s easy to affirm that God is “good” to all. But, when you are in the weeds, suffering and anguishing, you might begin to question whether you could be the one lonely exception in the universe to that statement about God’s goodness. 

In verse 14, God upholds all. We want that to be true, we need that to be true. “The eyes of all are upon God (verse 15),” and we want that to be true. God “satisfies the desire of ‘every living thing’” (verse 16).  “God is near to all,” and “God watches over all.” 

For some, these stretch the imagination because they sound too final, too absolute, too good to possibly be true. God doesn’t so much make the darkness go away. Darkness is there. You and I know that, because we’ve lived. The under-tow remains. 

But, the relentless solidarity that can, just at the right time, reach through the darkness and deliver us in some way. A touch from God, a new way of looking at things, a reason to hope or a sense of a tomorrow where formerly we could see no way ahead. Those are some of the ways God may guide us. 

Ours is a God who will not force us to be faithful. A God who will not force us to pay attention if we don’t choose to. A God who cannot force us to accept hope or joy. But who will reach for us and indeed will always be close by. 

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.