On Sunday I heard someone quote a version of Psalm 18:8-9 that’s used by Paul in Acts 2:25-26 to make a point. The Message broadens the essence of David’s song of trust in God even further, “I saw God before me for all time. Nothing can shake me; he’s right by my side. I’m glad from the inside out, ecstatic; I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope” (Acts 2:25-26 MSG). What captures my imagination in this translation is the idea of pitching our tent in the “land of hope”, especially when we grieve.
I went to Target over the weekend to get a small cooler – I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but the search took me through the department with all the camping gear. It was fully stocked because it’s that time of year - the adventure of the great outdoors beckons. And even though I’m not a camper, I was dazzled by the array of equipment and accessories and gadgets that make pitching a tent look like a lot of fun. There was a recent article in the newspaper about the sharp increase in those who go camping on vacation. I wonder if it’s in the “land of hope”.
When we grieve, our journey takes us through the valley of the shadow of death. For some of us it’s a long, arduous expedition, a march through the rough terrain of our sorrow, around the daunting hills of our doubt and despair, over the mountains of our darkest fear and pain. When one day we begin to see the clearing on the other side of our grief, what does it look like? Is it a plateau of resignation to the death of our loved one? Is it a barren steppe with no trees of joy and delight? Is it the dry desert of bitterness choked by the hot dust of the past? Is it a forlorn prairie with no path or sign to show us the way beyond our grief? “Why are you in despair, O my soul, and why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance, my God” (Psalm 42:5 NIV).
The psalmist David was an original, very creative thinker - he had the clarity, imagination, and vision that often come to us when we’re free from the daily distractions of life, when we have the time and space to really think and reflect. Sometimes this happens when we’re alone in the wilderness, at one with nature, camping out. David describes the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23), but he also suggests what’s on the other side – the “land of hope”. We’re to pitch our tent there, we’re to take up residence in this better place with the energy of renewed life and hope that’s the best outcome of our experience of grief.
And there’s a promise when we do, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV). In the “land of hope” God empowers our heart with confidence for the future, God inspires our hope with the assurance of faith. It’s there we pitch our tent in praise and thanksgiving for the steadfast love and faithfulness of God that sustains us as we grieve and grow toward the future with hope.
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Romans 8:24-25 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the stronghold of your hope. Amen.