You Have to Be There

Zack Robbins (’13)
February 21, 2013
Psalm 69: 1 – 3, 13 – 18

Image courtesy

Save me, God,
because the waters have reached my neck!
I have sunk into deep mud.
My feet can’t touch the bottom!
I have entered deep water;
the flood has swept me up.
I am tired of crying.
My throat is hoarse.
My eyes are exhausted with waiting for my God.

13  My prayer reaches you, Lord,
at just the right time.
God, in your great and faithful love,
answer me with your certain salvation!
14 Save me from the mud!
Don’t let me drown!
Let me be saved from those who hate me
and from these watery depths!
15 Don’t let me be swept away by the floodwaters!
Don’t let the abyss swallow me up!
Don’t let the pit close its mouth over me!
16 Answer me, Lord, for your faithful love is good!
Turn to me in your great compassion!
17 Don’t hide your face from me, your servant,
because I’m in deep trouble.
Answer me quickly!
18 Come close to me!
Redeem me!
Save me because of my enemies!

How many of you have ever gone swimming before?  Do you remember the first time you got in the water?  If you were like me, you probably just splashed around in the pool or on the beach a little, maybe you even tried to do a doggie paddle if you were adventurous.  After a while, you probably got board of the kiddy pool and set your eyes on the deep part of the pool and the glorious diving boards.  However, the transition from kiddy pool to diving board didn’t happen overnight; it took years of hard work and practice to develop the strength and endurance necessary to keep you afloat in the deep end.  But what happens when we drift into deeper water than we’re prepared for?  When our strength is not enough?

In the musical Kristina, written by ABBA of all people, we hear the story of Kristina, a Swedish immigrant who came to settle in Minnesota with her husband for a better life.  After years of having children, caring for them, and managing a household, she suddenly has a miscarriage.  Fearing that she might lose her life and her husband she questions God for the first time in her life, accusing God of pushing her into deeper water than she was prepared for.  In the deep floodwaters she feels separated from God, unable to see God, and cries out,

What is it Lord that you want
That I am not seeing?
What in my ignorant prayers
Am I failing to say?
Never before have I questioned the truth of your being
Never once have I dared
Never until today

All of a tremble
I stand on the edge of confusion
Who is to save me
If into the darkness I fall?
Now that I need more than ever my God to be near me
Do you hear when I call?
Are you there after all?”

Questioning God in this pit of despair, Kristina experiences a feeling as old as faith itself.  Job challenged God in the midst of his suffering; the writer of Psalm 69 cries out so that God may hear him and know his distress.  If you listen to the Psalmist, he speaks from a point of despair, crying out to God so desperately that his throat becomes hoarse and his “eyes are exhausted with waiting.”  He begs God,

Don’t let me be swept away by the floodwaters!
Don’t let the abyss swallow me up!
Don’t let the pit close its mouth over me!

Think about the moments when our faith seems to crumble from the onslaught of death, disease, damaged relationships, loneliness, and doubt.  During these moments, we cry out, “Where is my God?” as we feel lost in a sea of turbulent waters, desperate for just a glimpse of God in our lives.

When I was in Morocco last Fall, I felt like a Kristina – minus the miscarriage and broken marriage – questioning God and my faith for the first time in my life among a sea of strangers in a foreign land.  I scrambled to cling to my faith, unable to fathom a life without God.  My prayer to God was Kristina’s as she struggled through her faith:

You have to be there, you have to
My life I have placed in thy keep
And without you I am drifting on a dark and stormy sea
You have to be there, you have to
Without you I’d drown in the deep
Too far, too far from land
The waters drag me down
I reach for your hand

The process of watching the certainties of your faith melt before your eyes is a terrifying, yet powerful experience.  It is like returning to the raging waters before creation described in the beginning of Genesis, when “the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea.”  As Mark often mentions, the raging sea is a symbol of chaos– a place void of God’s presence.  The most terrifying moments in our lives are those when we lose all control and the comforting order we’ve grown accustomed to in our lives.  Thankfully, God brings order to the chaos, which is why, even in moments of doubt and despair, we cry out to God like Kristina, “You have to be there!”  You have to be there because just by speaking into the void, You stilled the waters.  You said, “Let there be light,” and light appeared.  You said, “Be!” and all of creation was.

Out of the darkness and desolation of this doubt emerges a refined, more mature faith, like a rough stone that has been smashed against thousands of rocks in a whirling ocean and is washed ashore as a smoothed pebble.  I’m not claiming that God forces these challenges upon us or “wills” them, but that God can transform our moments of drowning into moments of polishing.  Put another way, if the Romanticized metaphors of unruly nature are too grim and dramatic for you, the Psalmist of Psalm 30 summarizes this transformation beautifully, telling how God “changed my mourning into dancing. / [God] took off my funeral clothes / and dressed me up in joy.”

When we find ourselves being dragged down by deeper waters than we can handle, we reach for God’s hand, not out of the simplistic hope that God will come out of the sky as a deus ex machina to make everything better, but because we know that our God is the one who stilled the water with his voice, who brings order to chaos, who will be with us when we drown.