Monday, June 12, 2006

God is our refuge

Blessed are those who take refuge in Him
--Ps. 2: 12

When images or names for God are listed, I don't believe the word 'refuge' comes to mind that readily. However, it is extremely common in the Psalter. Why is this? And how can we make God our refuge?

The question of why God would be referred to as a refuge is related to the question of why there are so many laments in the Psalter. Estimates range from about 45 to 65 laments. The Psalmist is quite often in mortal danger. My own theory on this is that the Psalter is meant as a book of ritual prayers for the king. Scholars who assume that this was a devotional collection for normal Israelites tend to run into the absurdity of farmers and housewives complaining hyperbolically about lions and oxen coming to tear them to pieces. On the other hand, kings and any heads of state are always targets both from within and from without (witness recent events in Canada). When someone is under attack, he needs a refuge. This returns us to the second question, then: in what way is God a refuge.

The Old Testament is very comfortable theologizing out of the experiences of battle to a discernment of God's will. If the battle goes well, then God was fighting and making things turn out well. If not, as in the sons of Eli, Saul, or the idol-worshippers in 2 Maccabees, then one is exposed to the deadly assault of the enemy.

Are we involved in such a battle, we who pray the Psalms everyday and sing each one of them every week? I believe that both in terms of relentlessness and mortal seriousness, we are in such a spiritual battle. The vices (and the demons who suggest them to us, for those of you not queasy with demonology) attack us, and we fall wounded by sinning. The attack is temptation: how can God be a refuge.

Here, we depart a bit from the retributive justice model of the OT. We cannot merit our salvation, even if we are bound to was against temptation. Some might take God as refuge to mean that we should think of ourselves as guarded by God when we experience temptation. Since we pray these Psalms so often, and not always in times of clear temptation to sin, I would like to push farther sacramentally speaking and say that God is our refuge all the time. We should meditate on this reality before temptation hits, so that we know that whether or not we feel able to drum up a feeling of confidence, God is still "a helper close at hand in time of distress."

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Origen of Alexandria
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