Space. It spreads across the night sky like silken drapery, but scientists and astronomers tell us that it stretches out to infinity. There, in the cold and the dark all our “wheres” and our “whys” vanish in a silence that yawns before us like an endlessly open grave.
In 2013 the science fiction thriller Gravity captured a nation’s attention—garnering seven academy awards. The film centers on Ryan—an astronaut played by Sandra Bullock. A cataclysmic accident leaves her stranded above the earth with little to no hope of rescue.
But when I watched the movie for the first time (no spoilers below; I promise), I was surprised to find that the film’s true conflict lay within. You see, Ryan had been adrift for some time. After the tragic death of her daughter, Ryan disconnected from life, preferring instead to stay in the car and drive for hours with no particular destination or purpose.
Through Ryan’s eyes, we see that space forms the perfect backdrop from man’s fragile condition. From the moment we are born, we are set adrift—untethered from the cord that once offered both security and sustenance. We grow older only to be repeatedly taught—by the greatest prophets of our age—that there is no up, no real “down.” In a postmodern world, such absolutes are merely the by-products of our perception. And so like Ryan, we are cut free. Cut free to inhabit a world haunted by both the memory and uncertainty that lies on either side of the horizon.
In the film, Ryan makes contact with earth for the briefest of moments—but she manages only to contact a fisherman who speaks only Russian. As the hopelessness of her plight settles on her shoulder like a burial shroud, she makes a moving confession:
“I’m gonna die…I know, we’re all gonna die. Everybody knows that. But I’m going to die today. Funny that… you know, to know. But the thing is, is that I’m still scared. Really scared. Nobody will mourn for me, no one will pray for my soul. Will you mourn for me? Will you say a prayer for me? Or is it too late… ah, I mean I’d say one for myself but I’ve never prayed in my life. Nobody ever taught me how… nobody ever taught me how…”
As her confession ends, the camera narrows its focus to a single tear that—in the absence of gravity—floats upward.
All tears fall towards heaven. But, I suppose you already knew that. If it’s true that “there are no atheists in foxholes,” then it stands to reason that the extremes of life—pain, fear, panic—finally lift our eyes above the horizon of self towards the sky.
Movies like Gravity grab our attention through their blockbuster effects; they hold our attention through their ability to accurately reflect the human heart. Good art does this. And in the book of psalms, we find art that predates Christ by nearly a millennium—yet speaks as powerfully to the human condition as ever.
MY SOUL WAITS IN SILENCE
In Psalm 62, David writes another “trust psalm.” As with the other psalms of this type, we don’t know precisely what David was experiencing—though some commentaries suggest he wrote this psalm during a time of political upheaval started by a political/military rival named Absalom.
But like many other psalms of trust, this song helps us understand what it’s like to “wait in silence.” Where is God? Why continue to pray when we feel so terrifyingly alone?
1 For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
3 How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
4 They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. Selah
David never allowed his circumstances to shape his view of God’s character. Verses 3-4 reveal that David understood the full gravity of his situation—but verses 1-2 reveal that David understood that God was greater still.
David continues this in the next verses:
5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
Notice that verses 5-6 are essentially a restatement of verses 1-2. God’s character remains the basis for trust in God. In verse 8, David’s song takes the form of an explicit command: trust in Him at all times.
Finally, David turns his focus to the contrast between man and God:
9 Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
10 Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, 12 and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.
The final verses of the song sound ominous: you get what’s coming to you. God is a God of justice—David could count on this in dealing with his own enemies. But the gospel says that God renders to Christ according to our work—so that we can receive according to Christ’s righteousness. That changes everything. That tells us our battles are already won.
FEELING THE FULL GRAVITY
But what about those of us who—like the astronaut Ryan—have never been taught how to pray? And I don’t mean that we haven’t been shown, haven’t had prayer modeled for us. I mean we will face circumstances that defy our understanding. If a loved one is diagnosed with a debilitating and fatal illness, what should we really pray? Do we pray for healing? Do we pray for peace? Do we pray for a swift and merciful end? Once again, all tears fall toward heaven as we feel the full gravity of our ordeal. But like David, we can trust in the power of God to work out all things for His glory. In Romans 8, Paul tells his readers that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). Are you facing a circumstance for which you don’t know how to pray? Don’t worry; God does. And as our tears fall toward heaven, so does God’s mercy fall back on us.