High Praise from the Ground of Inward Affliction

November 3rd, 2011 by

“O Yahweh, all your creatures shall praise you,
and your godly people shall pay homage to you!
About the glory of your kingdom they shall speak
and talk about your heroic strength!
So that your strength may become known to the children of men,
the glorious splendor of your kingdom!” -Ps. 145.10-12 (Kraus’ tr.)

The psalmist sees creation from a majestic vantage point. From his view, all the splendor of creation points Godward, and he is eager for all Israel, indeed all mankind, to enter into the high praises of the Lord.

“…. the invitation to praise Yahweh in vv. 10-12 now turns to “all his creatures,” so that the power and salvation of Yahweh may become known to “all the children of men.” “King Yahweh” (v. 1) rules a universal “kingdom,” which endures through all generations and radiates benevolent effects to all the world.

…. It is the wish of the singer that in the universal kingship of Yahweh “all flesh” would join in the praise.

…. In statements of praise the singer pays tribute to the great deeds of “King Yahweh.” He renders homage to the majesty of the powerful and merciful God. In the invitations and challenges that pulse through the hymn and determine its content all creatures- without regard for time and space- are drawn into the praise of God. To them the ideal government of the kingdom of Yahweh is impressively described and witnessed. Yahweh’s rule is characterized by salvific faithfulness and goodness that is bent down to those who pray and are afflicted.

(PSALMS: A Continental Commentary Vol. 2, Hans Joachim-Kraus; Fortress Press, pp. 548-549)

It is not the religious specialist who beholds the “salvific faithfulness and goodness” of God, but rather the one who accepts the invitation to “praise Yahweh,” and to pray even though he is experiencing very present affliction. The psalmists are preeminently God-centered men, and they are ever and always calling us out of self-absorption, and into the high praises of the One who is ruling and reigning from the heavenly throne.

To pray in the midst of affliction is to acknowledge our weakness and frailty, but in that acknowledgement we are surrounded by the protective power of the immeasurable strength of God Himself. From the place of praise we realize that His kingdom “radiates benevolent effects to all the world,” including the pieces of dust that we are. His wisdom transcends our own and yet He warmly responds to the one who honors Him in the valley, and for that very reason it is the highest human privilege to enter into prayer and praise from the context of affliction.

We should not think of affliction as sickness or physical pain only, for the most frequent afflictions are inward. The pains of disillusionment, confusion, shaken paradigms, self-conscious idiosyncrasies. Entering into prayer and praise from the place of inward affliction is the great privilege of the saint.

David even has the audacity, powered by his intimate knowledge of the Lord, to pray for a theophany, an appearance of God Himself, during a season of remarkable pressure and trial (Ps. 144.5ff.). While the unbeliever has no place to turn in such times, the child of God has a faithful Father and King whose ear is bent in his favor.

Paul and Silas sung high praises from the ground of affliction, and the cosmos could not contain the contradictory dynamic of weak souls seeing beyond their present trial and into the heavens, “where Christ is.” The earth, and the powers which influenced it, were not accustomed to suffering men radiating the “benevolent effects” of God’s kingdom. An earthquake ensued and bonds were broken. “….the kingdom of God has come upon you….”

To behold the works of God and the character of God rightly, our self-inflicted “inward afflictions” have got to be jostled, and it is the act of praise itself that breaks the lies and shatters the presumptions that have so often caused them.

The works of God which man explores speak a language which provokes him to a hymn of praise. And in praise fragmentary perceptions turn into a unity and a whole, together with the still unexplored secrets which continue to threaten even the most thoroughly established knowledge.

(H.W. Wolff, ibid. p. 549)

Our “thoroughly established knowledge” is frequently the culprit and cause of our inward afflictions. We need repeatedly to be jolted into reality through the singular revelation of God on the throne, ruling in beauty and holiness and wisdom. When at once we see Him exalted on high, our suspicions, presumptions, bitternesses, and distorted perceptions are dashed to the dust, and we enter into the extraordinary liberty of praise. This is not to say that we are not called to wrestle through the seasons of breaking and trial, but to say that a wrestling on any lesser ground than the ground of prayer and praise will only keep us fixed in cycles of self-centered thought. We need daily and increasingly to be struck by the vision of God, as He actually is, and to praise Him in that glorious light.

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