- Revd Dr James Hughes
Who am I Now?
A reflection on Psalm 34
It’s fair to say that our identity is a contested space at the moment. It has been this way from the beginning of course – what does it mean to be in the image of God? (Genesis 1), and to be ‘like God’? (Genesis 3). However, we definitely live in a time in the west where identity-making – whether through the traditional tools of money, sex and power, or through the comparatively more recent additions of education, family and leisure – is centre stage. We are concerned about ourselves, about who we are, and who we want to be.
And of course, as we begin to come out of Coronavirus restrictions here in the UK, we are going to have identity issues. Some will have lost jobs and face the reality of having lost family members to the Pandemic. Everybody is going back to something different. Most church leaders I know are wondering what Church is going to look like in the future; if we found our identity in being a leader of a big church, what happens to our identity when the church gets smaller?
As we come to Psalm 34, the heading reminds us that these identity issues are not new:
Psalm 34:1 OF DAVID, WHEN HE CHANGED HIS BEHAVIOR BEFORE ABIMELECH, SO THAT HE DROVE HIM OUT, AND HE WENT AWAY.
The Psalm takes us back to 1 Samuel 21, where David on the run from Saul seeks refuge with Achish King of Gath, but then has to pretend to be insane to escape from danger there. At this point in the narrative, we can reasonable ask – who is David? Is he a loyal servant of Saul – or a rebel? A mighty warrior or a madman? David acts prudently to save himself, but given our identity is at least in part formed in our relationships with others, the fact that for some in Achish’s court he will forever be ‘crazy David’ means this comes at some personal cost.
So how does David recover his sense of self? He seeks the Lord’s face, and praises God.
Psalm 34:1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but David’s response to this situation is not to turn inward, but to turn Godward, and as we see in verses 2 and 3 of the Psalm, to call others to do the same.
He then in the next few verses (v4-7) recalls all that God has done for him in delivering him. He has been delivered from his fears and saved from his troubles. Notice that David is not fearless; but rather than fearing his situation, he rightly fears the Lord. This is underlined in verse 8 and 9:
Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! 9 Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!
I take it that these verses are parallel. To Taste and see that the Lord is Good and to fear him are two sides of the same coin. It is to seek God knowing his awesome might and authority, and yet also knowing the one who has sent his son to redeem us. We are blessed if we seek him, we lack nothing.
Verse 10 underlines this point with a contrast:
Psalm 34: 10 The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
The young lions are of course a model of self-sufficiency. They are the apex predator – even when others, including old lions, lack food, the young lions will be fine. Except they do experience hunger and want. But those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
The message of the Psalm here is profoundly simple: fear and seek the Lord and lack nothing. To which we naturally ask – really nothing? Yes, because if we are finding our identity in God, in Christ, then we are finding our identity in the one who will not let us down. As David found, all those other things will let you down. The reputations we build for ourselves are subject to change; we cannot control what others think of us. Money, sex, power, family, leisure, education – all these good things do not have sufficient weight to bear the burden of being the ultimate thing. Our own internal narratives are, we are increasingly aware, somewhat unreliable. But if we find our identity in Christ as a child of God, then whatever the future holds, we lack nothing.
So, as we ask the question – who am I now? The answer surely begins: O taste and see that the LORD is good.