Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of your poor for ever.
Have regard for your covenant;
for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
Let not the downtrodden be put to shame;
let the poor and needy praise your name. (Ps 74.19-21)
I noticed these lines while praying this psalm last week. Probably because of the references to the anawim, God's poor, who look to God as their only hope. But in the past several days I've been drawn back to that line, "the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence."
That may have been a reference to the many threats that exist for the vulnerable poor. But I imagine that many of the poor (including those who come to us for retreats) might live among these dark places and find it oppressive spiritually as well. Making it very difficult to hope, to love those around them, to imagine any good existing in such a place, among people who seem so crushed and unable to rise. That seems to me to be a serious difficulty.
Maybe I'm more aware of this because of my own difficulties finding hope and motivation for good when the people I live among seem to be unable to forgive and trust and be generous to one another right now. When real, inspiring goodness seems like an impossible dream. I've struggled to find a way to cope with this, and I've been reminded of two things that seem to help me.
First, "no one is good but God alone." I wrote about this earlier this year, but now I'm drawn to the way it gives us a more accurate, honest view of people, while still offering hope. We ourselves are not the source of good, and the lack of goodness among us should not surprise (or disillusion) us. Yet God can and does inspire and work though people, so goodness can appear anywhere, even where we least expect it. It is always a surprising miracle, but that is exactly what we hope for.
Second, "all things work for good for those who love God." This is perhaps Paul's way of describing what I have called God's providence, and experienced in many ways. I remember it here because even if the people around us cannot bring themselves to do good at this moment, God can and does provide his good for us anyway, often through the actions of these very people (no matter what their intentions). And he provides this good not only for us, but also for anyone that trusts in his care. God does not leave the lives of his poor in anyone else's hands. Especially in the dark places of the land.