A Reflection on Psalm 31.1-6 by Canon Rob, 3rd July
Today’s Gospel reading tells of the incident, a week after Jesus’ resurrection, when Thomas-who had previously doubted that his Master was alive again-had his faith restored. In this picture, by Caravaggio, we see the moment when Jesus invites Thomas to reach out and touch the wound in Jesus’ side. I have always been grateful to St Thomas because his experience allows me to know that it is all right to have doubts and there have been many to wrestle with over the years.
It is fitting then to have part of Psalm 31 to reflect upon today, with its opening words, “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge.” For it is a prayer of one who has struggled, indeed suffered, in the past and remembering that God has helped him before, he calls for his help again. The authors of the psalms believed that much of their suffering was brought upon themselves because they had sinned: something you will find echoes of if you read verse 9 (beyond the verses set for today.) So these opening verses are a prayer for deliverance. Verse 2 shows how anxious the author is. “Incline your ear to me; make haste to deliver me.” We have no idea what is causing the writer to be so distressed, but clearly he is anxious at the time of writing. Verse 11 gives us a clue as to what he is going through: it seems he has faced a great deal of criticism, even cruelty, for his faith in God. So he turns to the one who he knows has always been there for him, the God (see verse 3) who is his “rock” and “stronghold.” There is a renewed confidence in these words just as Thomas, on seeing (and touching) the risen Jesus, says, “My Lord and my God!” Doubt is overcome. Faith is restored. Trust is expressed in verse 5: words which Jesus said just before he died on the cross. “Into your hands I commend my spirit;” words which will be familiar to those who take part in the late evening Service called Compline.
In the Old Testament the word “rock” is a symbol of stability and determination. It is always there and when applied to God it suggests complete reliability. So, in her prayer (See 1 Samuel 2.1-10) Hannah says of the Lord in verse 2, “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” [NRSV translation] God has not, does not, and never will let his people down. He is always ‘there,’ just as the sun is even when it is hidden by clouds.
But sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. We continue to see images from Ukraine and I cannot even begin to understand what the people are going through: whether those who remain in their country, or the millions who have fled their homes to seek refuge and safety elsewhere. Their courage remains, a courage founded on their trust in God. Yet…… yet there are surely times of doubt. Where is “the rock” for those who are desperate and have lost everything? The answer is that he is with us as he promised he would be. “..be assured I am with you always, to the end of time.” So said Jesus to his disciples just before he ascended into heaven. (See Matthew 28.20) Yet the author of the psalm lived before Jesus was born and would not have the reassurance which the disciples were given. However, he will have been able to look back at his history and seen there many occasions when God had rescued his people. He is probably referring to his own experience of being rescued before in verses 21 and 22 when he is looking back and finds strength in doing so.
We don’t always get everything right when it comes to faith in God. Thomas didn’t. But that’s O.K! God is very patient. He understands us and loves us more than we can imagine, even if and when we have times of doubt and questioning. Indeed it is often through those doubts and those questions that our faith is deepened and, with the writer of the psalm and Jesus himself, we can proclaim, “Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.”