There’s something quite unsettling about being lost. Maybe you’ve taken a walk in a wooded area and after walking for quite a while you suddenly realize that you’ve lost your way. There is no trail to guide you. There are no markers to point you in the right direction. Everything looks like everything else. There is a fear, a deep insecurity that sets in when you become disoriented. What was a quiet, serene stroll in the woods has become a stressful, anxiety-filled moment. You decide to keep on walking and you come upon a break in the woods, finally able to get a vantage point where you get your bearings. You now orient yourself to the world around you. The feelings of insecurity, fear, and anxiety dissipate. You’ve gotten to a place that has afforded you a proper orientation.
According to Walter Brueggemann, Psalm 145 is a psalm of orientation. Psalms of orientation describe a world that is well ordered, reliable, and life giving. God is the one who orders this world and makes it a safe place for God’s people. In these poems, the psalmist, on behalf of God’s people, expresses thanksgiving to God for the myriad ways God has been faithful. It’s in this well ordered world where the people can live without fear and anxiety. There is something sacred about this space.
Psalm 145 is an acrostic poem. Each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The verses under consideration for us today deal with the middle portion of that alphabet. Acrostic constructions can at times provide a disjointed reading. Sometimes one line doesn’t seem to segue smoothly to the next; however, this construction reveals something significant theologically. All of life, everything from A to Z (you might say), can be viewed under God’s providential care. It’s as if God encompasses everything and the psalmist is using language to communicate this truth.
Verses 8 and 9 provide that sacred space in which God’s people reside. Here we remember those qualities of God that make us feel safe and secure. The psalmist describes God as gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and finally, good. This is the character that provides orientation for God’s people. Amidst changing landscapes, threats from without, and the challenges of everyday life, it is the character of God that orients the people toward God’s kingdom and the ways of God’s kingdom.
It’s important to remember that God’s people, including the psalmist, have come to know God’s character through God’s actions. God is gracious because God has been gracious. God is lauded as merciful because God has demonstrated mercy toward God’s people. God is praised for being slow to anger because God has displayed divine patience. We come to know God’s character in the concrete ways that God has acted in our lives, and it was no different at that time.
This psalm begins describing God and God’s character. Then the psalmist moves to direct speech toward God, both giving God praise and calling on all to give God thanks. And finally there is a move back to describing God. But there is yet another move for us, as the readers, that we must make in response.
Earlier we discovered that one of the features and benefits of psalms of orientation is that they provide safety and security. They speak of life in a well-ordered world. These same benefits can also be harmful to God’s people and to those outside that well ordered world. Sometimes a well-ordered world can become an excuse to keep others down. In order to maintain the status quo, we organize life in such a way to keep everything where it is because that works for us. Safety, security, stress-free, etc. all become something we hide behind. They become the warm blanket that keeps us huddled up inside.
But here’s where the final move must come. Verse 14 says, “The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.” This is where we find our true orientation. Here we see God’s activity among those who are falling and bowed down. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a dream where you’re constantly falling, but it definitely does not provide a feeling of safety and security. To be falling is to feel helpless. To be bowed down is to feel defeated and beaten down.
For God’s people today, it is not enough for us to say we are gracious, merciful, slow to anger, loving, and compassionate. In the same way that we’ve come to know God’s character through God’s actions, the world around us will only come to know our character through our actions. It is only as we find our orientation among those who are falling, bowed down, marginalized, that the world will come to see us as people of love, compassion, and mercy. May this become our vantage point.