8 They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him;
he will not rise again from where he lies.”
9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me,
and raise me up, that I may repay them!
11 By this I know that you delight in me:
my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
12 But as for me, you uphold me in my uprightness
and you set me before your face forever.
13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
Many apparently insignificant expressions over which a person reads quickly exist particularly in the book of Psalms. Yet, when a person plumbs their depths, they yield rich comfort and are a source of grace. That’s true of the words from Psalm 41 that stand above this little meditation. Think into it for a minute and let it register on your soul. What wonderful grace is tucked away in those brief words!
I should have died, says the child of God, but I didn’t! I will triumph over my enemy and over the man who torments my soul. But this certainly won’t happen because I’m able to withstand him or because I’m stronger than he is. It will only be because I am a child of my God. It doesn’t depend on me his child, but only on God! It’s because the honor of my God and Father is involved. That’s why, and for that reason alone, God’s child ultimately perseveres, no matter how much unhappiness may be involved.
Ultimately getting through categorically doesn’t happen without righteousness. Otherwise all the devils would raise objections and scream to high heaven from the depths of hell: “God is unrighteous!” And if things unfolded like that, the devils themselves would also find themselves in heaven!
No, God’s child holds out with righteousness and without the least bit of unrighteousness. And the mystery of how that can happen the psalmist solves from his own spiritual experience. Again and again he resists clinging to his own righteousness, but he finds that God establishes that in him and for him. “Lord, as for me, you uphold me in my uprightness!” Uprightness! That’s even more than righteousness, for in effect that amounts to saying: “I am made righteous by you, and I would never claim that I have gotten to that point by myself!” Uprightness confesses in and from the heart: “The Lord himself accomplished this, and he alone!”
And how does this work of his unfold?
Very simply said, my good brother and sister, it is accomplished because God in his love does one very simple thing: he “sets you before his face forever.”
He did that in eternity and before laying the foundations of the world. In that act of setting someone before his face forever, both your election and the root of your salvation in that election are bound together.
“Setting you before his face” also included your regeneration by infusing your soul with the capacity to believe when you were brought to life from death. Recognize that all of your worldly living and abiding in death amounted to standing outside of his light and happened because you were estranged from him, your God. Your awakening to new life through faith was precisely your coming to stand before God’s face and immediately seeing by the light of his presence both your eternal death and the unfathomable depth of his grace. And this much you know for certain, that you did not go and stand before God’s face! He was the one who placed you there!
Oh, the divine moment of your eternal rebirth, when the All-Compassionate God looked down on you. Then it became impossible for you ever to leave him, for now you were positioned in his presence, standing before his awesome and yet so reassuring face.
And is that the way it’s always going to be?
For you and I remained so ungodly that after his miraculous work of mercy and after briefly enjoying our presence before him, we suddenly decided that a person is not capable of looking upon God continually. Our souls told us that we had had enough of God and that there was not a lot of life in such a monotonous existence. We wanted to get back to what was really visible. Naturally, we did this with the idea that later we could return to God. But for the moment, at least, we were going to enjoy something good away from him. But in turning away from him, we really wanted to do so while still singing: “Yet it’s really good, it’s a source of blessing to me, to be near to my God!”
Truly, how perplexing our human hearts actually are! We really scare ourselves sometimes, don’t we?
But the fact is, a child of God can’t have or do what they want. They may want to run away from God in order to be free, but God doesn’t let them do this. All the running away happens only in a dream. They imagine that they’re out of God’s presence. They picture themselves as now being free. They dream that later they’ll go back to God. But in reality, all of this is nothing more than a mirage.
They simply can’t! For God has “set them before his face forever”! At best, they can only touch their lips to the cup of sin before a terrifying light shines all around them and a fire burns inside them. So what is this heaviness of conscience? This sadness pouring over their souls? That terrible weakness in their legs? What else is it but the face of God, in whose presence you are standing forever? That’s the reason why a child of God can’t sin without the sinning being followed by terrible turmoil in the soul and soul-wrenching remorse.
But remorse is followed by praise. For God always succeeds. If you humble yourself and cry out with a submissive heart: “O God, just give up on me. I don’t deserve to lift my eyes and look you in the face!” then God always does the same thing. He sets you before his face once again. But now it’s before his comforting face, and the love of Christ begins flowing quietly into your heart.
And so, God be praised, that’s how it will be forever. “You set me before your face forever.” That’s why, whatever may come and whatever may threaten us, we are never overcome by it, and it always turns out well. For God is God. And when we are once above, all desire to be away from God will be gone, because that’s how our own wills will forever want it. Then God will place all his children before his face to enjoy his everlasting presence. Jehovah exalted in his saints!
Oh, may his mercy grant this glory also in you and me!
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms