5 But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.
6 The righteous shall see and fear,
and shall laugh at him, saying,
7 “See the man who would not make
God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
and sought refuge in his own destruction!”
8 I am like a green olive tree in God’s house.
I rely on God’s mercy now and for eternity.
9 I will thank you forever,
because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
in the presence of the godly.
Christ is living! And the life of our Lord Jesus Christ is a continuous source of the power of life flowing, pouring from it. This power pervades everything. It is not limited by distance, but it springs from the heart of Jesus and is here on earth in a split second. It is present in your daily activities, your home, the privacy of your own bedroom, and at the doorway of your heart. It is a power that searches for you and does not give up until it finds you. It always ends either with you crushing and discarding it or by getting through to you. The latter is absolutely wonderful! For then it permeates you, inspires you, exalts you, sustains you, and roots you in the life of God himself.
All the glory of his church, all the preeminence his people may possess, and all the strength of his elect are rooted in the living Christ.
His church receives nothing at all from a dead Christ, or even an unemployed Christ who is now seated somewhere high above us in heaven and is so far away from us that we have to shout to him and hardly get back as much as a faintly whispered answer. That’s when the church is like a lamp without oil, a streambed without water, a parched skeleton without marrow or nerves.
When seen without the steady outpouring and infusion of Jesus’ life-giving power, his church, every one of his elect people, and even your own heart are all no more than dead, shriveled carcasses. They are devoid of life’s glow and inner appeal. They are worthless, good for nothing, and like a diamond in pitch-black darkness.
But that’s not the case, praise God! The Son of God, our glorious Head, is never absent from us in his majesty or with his grace and his Spirit. The diamond is never without bright light shining on it. The root is filled with sap. The streambed is always brimming with flowing water. This is the case even when the church thinks it has no energy and vitality left at all. It’s the case when an elect child of the Lord feels worthless and gives up. But that’s when the living Christ comes to them, inspires them, and upholds them. That’s when he speaks sacred, splendid words to them: “I’ll be with you all the days of your life, even until the end of the world!”
This is not what the soul senses, however. It rarely has experiences like that. It’s only been able to examine them a few times. If we had to rely on religious experience, we’d have to complain: “The Lord is absent from me three hundred days of the year! And it’s already saying too much if I said that on the rest of them I only detect him from a long way off!”
If a gospel had to be fashioned on the basis of the religious experience of God’s children, it would go like this: “Those who are superficial glory in their impression that Jesus is always with them. But those who reflect more deeply know that he has visited them on only a few occasions, and then only to spend the night!”
This is precisely the reason why God the Holy Spirit hasn’t left the writing of the gospel up to us. That’s why he did it himself. Thanks to that divine decision, what we have in his Word is not what we think about Jesus. We have him there as he really is. This is the Jesus presented to God’s children there. He is the Jesus who has received all power in heaven and on earth. He is the divine Immanuel. And yet, he is also our brother. He is the Jesus who is ever living, always working, and continuously causing his power to flow from him. He is the Jesus who is always close to his church. He is always enlivening the souls of his elect, even when they take no notice of it.
On that basis, a child of God dares to exult even during times when they feel abandoned. They exult as David did when everything seemed lost, all hope was gone, he was walled off from everything, and the Holy Spirit enabled him not to complain even then: “I won’t go down that road, but I will exult and rejoice. ‘I will be like a green olive tree in God’s house, always and forever.’ ”
To speak such heroic words at such times is not based on mere religious experience but on a deep faith. It’s a faith that relies on a God who is with us even when he doesn’t seem to be. It’s a faith that calls out to him as though he is present.
An olive tree! I’m an olive tree! That is, I’m such a precious plant that I never shrivel but always stay green. I’m a tree on which people see no fruit from a distance, but when they shake me, the little olives rain down on them on all sides. I’m a tree beautiful in every way, and even my shape is enchantingly beautiful. I’m a tree whose chopped wood—although that’s a very displeasing thought—even has a soft, lovely appearance.
That’s the kind of olive tree, says David, that I’ll be in the house of the Lord. It won’t be standing alone on some naked rock like a one-eyed king. It won’t be in the desert, where some brushwood passes for a tree. No, it will stand in the most splendid, beautiful courtyard of God’s dwelling. It will be in that garden where the cedars and palm trees are on display and where the martyrs’ descendants are nourished by their blood. It will be in that magnificent spiritual court where the selection of all the specimens has been coordinated. That’s where I’ll be, always green, green forever, the shoot of an olive! That’s what David dared to exult in at the very moment that everything seemed lost, when men were hunting him like the gazelle, and when Satan was attacking his sinful heart with thoughts of Nabal and Bathsheba.
So tell me. Do you understand now what the inspiration of sacred Scripture is all about?
It comes down to this. David himself did not really, truly know who he was. But the Holy Spirit did. And here the Holy Spirit is speaking for David. David repeats what he said. David believed what he said. And by means of that faith, David knew that he was God’s child. That’s how he moved beyond his sin and the shriveling of his soul. That’s how he knew he was actually an olive tree, green on the inside. That’s how he knew that such green growth didn’t come from within himself but that it came from the ever-living Immanuel, who fashioned a greening olive tree from a parched David.
But what about you?
Are things any different for you?
Do you think you can really build anything on the basis of your religious experience?
Do you understand how matters stand with you? Do you know your own situation?
My dear sisters and brothers, consider those who are sick. So many who are sick actually feel very healthy. Their doctor just shakes his head knowingly. Feelings can really fool you!
On the other hand, there are a great many sick people who think they’re not going to make it through the night. They are that deathly afraid. But their doctor tells them: “Don’t worry. You’re going to be fine!” It’s only their imagination that threatens them.
And this is exactly how things are in that enormous hospital for souls. Only the Holy Spirit, the Great Physician, actually knows our condition. Our own feelings are misleading.
For that reason, the person who feels good shouldn’t celebrate all that much. The person who doesn’t shouldn’t complain all that much, either.
But even when things are dark and bleak in your soul, believe him when the Holy Spirit comes to you and says: “The battle’s over!” Simply respond: “O Holy Spirit, I really do believe you.” Stammer the way David did, and confess that you are like “an olive tree in God’s house, green now and green forever”!
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms