I Would Have Otherwise Despaired
(The written reflection focuses entirely on the Psalm from the lectionary, and varies slightly from the video version of the Episode)
My heart would have otherwise despaired, unless I believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. (v.13, my translation)
Translators have wrestled with what to do with the preposition לוּלֵא (meaning if not, or unless). Verse 13 opens with this curious word, “unless”, with no context or explanation before diving into the Psalmists presupposed confidence that they would see the goodness of the LORD in this life, in the presence the living. Some translators (i.e., the ESV) don’t address the preposition, others interpret it is as an indicator of confidence (i.e., the NIV, NLT, and others). However, some direct our attention to a different possibility: that this simple preposition is pointing not to the confidence of the Pslamist, but instead to the source of the Psalmist’s confidence. The NASB writes, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”
The Psalmist is being pursued by their enemies (v.2), armies are encamped around them (v.3). The Pslamist has been orphaned by their parents (v.10). The Pslamist is at war.
I understand this Psalmist’s predicament far too intimately. As I read this, I can’t help but be reminded of my journey of owning my truth as a Queer person. I was at war with myself. The Evangelical community that had lured me in, was now encamped around me to wage war against me themselves. Lies were told about me as the world I was in breathed violence against me, as they stripped my dignity from me and denied my humanity. Even my Dad, my Grandma, and my Aunt, the folks who raised me but who themselves had no relationship to the evangelical world I was trapped in, had also forsaken me for coming out. I haven’t heard from them in years. My world was, for a long time, collapsing around me. I felt the Psalmist’s fear of being given over to the will of the enemy.
However, in that season, like the Pslamist, my heart cried out, “Come, seek the LORD’s face” (v.8). My heart kept crying out, reminding me to not give up, and to instead seek the love, and hope, and mercy, and justice, in the face of our Creator. As Paul writes in Corinthians, I found myself “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven by despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2ndCorinthians 4:8-9, NRSV). Through the warfare of that season, and the many ways I find myself continually afflicted by the on-going onslaughts against the LGBTQ community, I am reminded, that though I am orphaned, the LORD has “gathered me” (v.10, my translation). I know, in the depths of my being, that my heart would have otherwise despaired, if it were not for the faith coursing through my veins. Without this belief that in spite of this terror and warfare, I would have fallen into unspeakable darkness. Unless the deposit of the Psalmist’s faith had not cried out to me through the corridors of history and faith, I would not have made it. UnlessI had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living – in this life, not in the world to come – I would in fact have found myself crushed, driven by despair, forsaken, and destroyed. That is, unless. But I believed, and I can testify to this: surely, I have seen the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Will you believe with me?