If the Lord had not
been on our side—
let Israel say—
if the Lord had not been on our side
when people attacked us,
they would have swallowed us alive
when their anger flared against us;
the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
the raging waters
would have swept us away.
Praise be to the Lord,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
- Psalms 124:1-8
“God is almost intolerably careless crosses and swords, arenas and scaffolds, about all the ‘evils’ and all the ‘plagues.’ His caring doesn’t mean that he goes in for upholstering.”
- Paul Sherer
This quote was given at the beginning of chapter 5 in Eugene Peterson’s Book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. In a Bible study, using the book as a guide, someone was confused as to the meaning of the quote. The following was my response. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction is a study of the psalms of ascent. Chapter 5 covers Psalm 124.
I loved this quote. I often write the same way. Maybe Churchill wrote similarly at times, or maybe he just explains this form of writing.
Made in a radio broadcast in October 1939, a Winston Churchill quotation,: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”
So, maybe to break it down, we’ll look at each term of the first sentence, then tackle ‘upholstering.’
You must look at this quote in connection with Psalm 124, or it will make even less sense.
God is careless about crosses, otherwise, why did He let His Son die on one?
God is careless about swords, but that could be a word used for all weapons over time. Swords kill. It is bloody and visceral. A sniper killing someone from a mile away does not smell the smell of death, but a sword? All of the senses sense death when a sword is used. Would not a good God put a stop to that? Else, He’s careless.
“Arenas” refers to the Roman colosseum and other such arenas where Christians were sacrificed for ‘sport.’ God was careless about that.
“Scaffolds” refers to the gallows, I think. Sherer may be taking a stab at capital punishment here (I am interested in reading his book.), but the crimes necessary for that type of punishment might lead one to the belief that God is quite careless there too.
The whole question of “evils” comes next. The atheist’s favorite objection that if God is really good, how can evil exist? Or is God powerless to deal with it? Or is God careless?
The “plagues” of Egypt are attributed to God. Does that mean that God creates all plagues throughout time, as in bubonic and such? Or is He careless?
The concept of “evils” really sums up everything. God is good. Psalm 124 states that God is a great help, but look at all this bad. What gives? Why is there a seeming contradiction that atheists use for a banner at their rallies?
Enter upholstering. God isn’t into that.
If you called me right now and said that you would be over to visit in an hour, we would spend that hour picking up the detritus in the living room. We’ll box that and it will go to the spare bedroom – destined to be saved until the contents of the box are meaningless. We’ll then vacuum the floor. You might hear the vacuum running as you climb the steps, but just before you arrive, we’ll look at the couch. It’s old. It’s worn out. We cannot replace the couch in the time you gave us, but we can take one of those one-size-fits-all upholstery covers and make it look new.
Is our couch new? No. Our couch still has the sins of more than a decade of naps taken upon it.
God helps us. Yes, He does. But God does not cover over the sin so that we have smooth sailing throughout. That is until a spring breaks and pokes you in the backside – another analogy altogether. Besides, God makes us a new creation.
We still live in a sinful world and we face struggles and hardships, but God is there to see us through those hardships.
Once I had covered this, I was asked for a word to substitute for ‘careless.’ No one wants to think of God as ‘careless,’ does one? I suggested a mental picture. You know that type of parent that allows their children to explore and stretch their personal limitations, yet the parent hovers over the child to help them when they stumble or help them when they become overwhelmed or put a bandage on the occasional scraped knee? Maybe you could replace ‘careless’ with ‘hovering,’ but then the quote doesn’t sound right.
In fact, God is not careless at all. God hovers over us. He provides us with strength and power. He equips us to face the struggles of this fallen world. With all that, God is far from careless, but when we look at our pain and focus on that, instead of looking at God and His provisions, we tend to think that God could have done better. But when we think that, we are not thinking clearly. Even in what aspects of our lives that could have been handled better, by us or by others, God uses that circumstance for good.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.