How long, O Lord, will You always forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long shall I cast about for counsel,
sorrow in my heart all day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Look at me, answer me, O Lord, my God
Restore the luster to my eyes
lest I sleep the sleep of death
lest my enemies say, I have overcome him
my foes exult when I totter.
I have been reading the Book of Psalms in recent weeks. This, cobbled together from two translations, is most of psalm 13. (I will leave the last verse until later.) It describes a person who keeps on looking for God, and keeps on finding that God has left the premises. It describes a person who wants to be vindicated, who has been repeatedly defeated by numerous enemies, and who expects God to help. But God doesnt. God apparently doesnt care. The psalmist is humiliated and tormented.
I can see, they gloat , that, once again your God has really come to your rescue. You fool. I dont know how many times I have to defeat you before you stop blaming God and start blaming yourself. Your life has been dedicated to a lost cause. You are a failure. Your life has been wasted. What you wanted to happen, never will. Give up. Go away.
Yes, I am talking about the elections in Israel this week. For those who wanted the results to be otherwise, we have read all the descriptions of gloomit was a disaster, cataclysm, a tsunami, a black hole singularity. I am sure that those on the other side are gleeful about our despair, our fervid muttering and perseverating , the way I used to feel when I read the Boston papers the day after the Yankees whacked the Red Sox. (What happened when the Red Sox beat the Yankees? I didnt read any papers. Thats the advantage of sports. You only have to read the good news. ) But this isnt baseball.
There are the attempted consolations. The Joint List of the Arabs did well .The difference between the total vote on the right and the total vote on the left really did not change much from the last election. If only the Zionist Union and Meretz had combined their votes, and went after Lapid the way Netanyahu went after Bennett and Lieberman, the center-left could have won the election. And then there are those who say that its not clear that a Zionist Union victory would have, in all likelihood, much advanced the peace process. And those who say that Netanyahus victory cleared the air. The Oslo peace process is no longer moribund, dead as you would be if a house falls on your head. To paraphrase the munchkin coroner, the peace process Is not only merely dead, its really most sincerely dead. Time to start from the beginning. Follow a new yellow brick road, if you can find one. And then amid the detailed analyses of what went wrong there are the usual exhortations to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and get up. There is work to be done. As there surely is.
The psalmist wanted an immediate demonstration of Gods power, to confound and refute enemies. God generally doesnt work that way. Those who want to be vindicated by God have to queue up and wait. And wait. It is the nature of faith. What happens when a cause one passionately believes in is long delayed? Sometimes you decide that the cause is not worth waiting for, and is just impossible to realize, and seek it elsewhere. This happened to me, and millions of others on the left over the past few generations with the cause of socialism. Whether or not it was a good cause, those who seek economic equality will just have to find other means to realize it. And sometimes you discover a long sought goal, when you get there, was not worth the wait. But sometimes you know that the cause you have been fighting for, however elusive, remains necessary, and that it both must and will happen. This is surely, for me, true for the cause of peace between Israel and Palestine, for all sorts of reasons. I know that, despite all my disappointments, that it will happen.
And that is why psalm 13 ends not in recrimination but rejoicing. The final line of the psalm is: But I trust in Your faithfulness, my heart will exult in Your deliverance. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me. Commentators have long puzzled in this abrupt turn about. After complaining about Gods absence, why this sudden rejoicing in Gods presence? One answer is that Gods presence and his absence are two aspects of belief. And presence and absence are parts of any long-held belief in social justice. There will be great disappointments along the way, and times when you question your belief, or question whether the belief is obtainable. But in the end it should lead to a mature kind of belief, one in which you cant call upon God to defeat your enemies, but know that your cause will eventually, in some form and some shape, be triumphant. Of this I remain sure.
Let me state what I take to be the meaning of Psalm 13 in another way, quoting the 19th century English novelist William Morris. I have pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle and the thing that they fought for comes about despite their defeat, and when it comes it turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant other another name. William Morris was writing about socialism, but I am writing between the rights of the Jews and Palestinians to share the land they inhabit in peace and with justice. I know it will come about; whether by one, two, or three states, and it might well be in a shape or form unrecognizable to me today. And I dont think I will live to see this happen. This I believe. And perhaps I am stubborn or perverse, but I am convinced that the election results this week will somehow, make this result more likely and bring it closer to consummation. In any event, we have no choice but to fight, with all of our intelligence, with all of our cunning, and with all our heart, to help bring this about.