Hidden in the Shadow of God’s Wings: Can Darkness Reveal God’s Presence?

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Psalm 17:8-9 – 3/24/17

“Guard me as the apple of the eye,

hide me in the shadow of your wings,

from the wicked who despoil me,

my deadly enemies who surround me.”

–Psalm 17:8-9 (NRSV)

These two verses seem to mark the midway point of this psalm not only in number but also in “theme.”  In the seven verses leading up to these two, David seems to be reminding God of his (David’s) faithfulness, his righteousness, his steadfastness in his relationship with God.  In the six verses following, the emphasis, in contrast, is more on the wickedness and depravity of his enemies and his prayer that God would deliver him from them.

In the middle, though, are the two verses quoted above; and I was struck by something in the middle of that middle:

“Hide me in the shadow of your wings….”

(Ps. 17:8b)

And what struck me is this:  in the shadow, it’s dark.  When you’re in someone’s, or something’s, shadow, whether God’s or anyone/-thing else’s, you are not standing in the light.  Perhaps the person or thing causing the shadow is over you, perhaps it’s in front of you, perhaps to one side or the other.  Possibly, depending on where the light is coming from, it’s even behind you.  But regardless of where the person or thing is that is causing the shadow or even how bright the light is that is creating it, when you are in its shadow, where you are is dark….

Now, if you are David and you realize that the darkness you perceive around you is caused by God’s “wings” and is a result of your being under them, then all is well and good.  You can thank God for the darkness and praise God for the protection it provides, and bide your time, patiently and quietly, until the comfort and safety offered by God’s wings are no longer needed and you are able to boldly step out again into the light.

But what if you are not David, and you do not realize that the darkness you perceive all around you is caused by God’s wings and is a result of your being under them, protected and safe?  What if the darkness all around you simply feels like…well, darkness? And rather than offering any feelings of comfort or safety, it bestows instead anxiety and despair?  What if your prayer has not been that God hide you in the shadow of God’s wings in the presence of your enemies, but that God get you the heck out of there and put you someplace where your enemies cannot even find you, let alone surround you?!

Because sometimes–let’s be real–darkness is, simply, darkness.  Sometimes darkness is the absence of light, and it can be painfully dark.  And sometimes our prayer needs to be that God would get us the heck out of the darkness and back into the light, with our efforts geared toward that end as well.

But maybe sometimes, the darkness that seems to surround us is something else.  Maybe sometimes, the darkness that seems to be all that we can see, is a darkness caused by God’s presence rather than God’s absence.  Maybe, just maybe, sometimes, when we find ourselves surrounded by darkness, that darkness has been created by the protective cover of God’s wings over us….

Certainly I can be more like the above-described “not-David” than David on occasion–seeing darkness as darkness, feeling anxiety rather than safety in that darkness, praying desperately for deliverance back into the light rather than patiently biding my time in the shadow….

But what if?…. What if I could be more like David, more often?  What if I could see the darkness in my life, when it occurs, as being caused by the protective cover of God’s wings? or at least consider that possibility?…. What if I could wait patiently and quietly in that darkness, trusting that when the time was right, I would step confidently back into the light?  What if I could trust that sometimes God’s very Presence may look a lot to me like darkness, and that in those periods of darkness God might be closer than I’ve ever known, close enough that I am being hidden, and protected, and cared for, in the shadow of God’s wings?….

Hmmm….

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