Out of sight, out of mind.

So do we forget people we ought always to remember. So do we lose contact. ‘We aren’t really in touch’, people say, the absence of communication speaking volumes.

That’s the thing about distance. It’s not so much the matter of being across the river or the next town over or a time zone away. It’s that there’s no seeing. No hearing.

‘I can’t be reached’, we say. Terrible things might happen and the one who could have done something—just by being far away—finds out when it’s already too late.

The 22nd Psalm is the most famous lament of the book of Psalms, mostly because its opening, terrifying questions are reported to have tumbled from the lips of Jesus as he hung there, nailed to the machinery of death that we abbreviate with the too familiar words ‘the cross’.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1 ESV)

The distance—indeed the distancing—that stands cold and unresponsive as rusting steel at the core of abandonment might pass unnoticed did it (Hebrew רחק) not come again to the psalmist’s pen twice more.

Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. (Psalm 22:11 ESV)

But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! (Psalm 22:19 ESV)

We treasure a pleasing, gentle solitude, welcome when it can be had. But this is different, this terrifying, draining, desperate alone-ness. The psalmist knows it too well. So does the dying Jesus. So, too, do we.

If God does not hear our cry for the distance between us, if his eyes–distant and otherwise occupied—fail to notice our drowning, we are done for.

Yet Psalm 22 endures as a monument of human desolation because its worst fears proved not to be realized.

For (YHWH) has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. (Psalm 22:24 ESV)

As it turns out, YHWH either was not as far away as he had seemed to be or has heard the cry of a dying man and come back.

But, oh, the unshared, shivering agony of distance while it lasts, while it claims—however falsely—to be the final truth.



On Friday evening I sat on the patio of my favorite Italian restaurant and listened to my son’s stories.

Little more than a year ago, he and his older brother successfully completed the U.S. Army’s Ranger School, often considered the most difficult thing the Army can throw at a young man outside of actual combat. As though that were not enough, this strapping son had just come through the Army’s other elite training program, the Sapper Leader Course (a.k.a. ‘Sapper School’).

A few hours earlier, his father-in-law and I had dabbed at moist eyes as the 24 soldiers—of 45 who began the course—had received their Sapper ‘tabs’ in one of those military ceremonies that is at once understated and profound.

Kind people say ‘You must be proud’, but I am not proud. I deeply admire the commitment and relentless persistence that have produced my two sons’ achievements. More, in fact, than I can say. But there is no place here for a father’s pride. What they’ve done, they have done. I’ve stood back in bemused awe, always, and cheered them on when I can. But this thing is theirs, not mine.

Back to an exquisite Missouri evening and that Italian restaurant. I know of no more gentle, no kinder human being that the son across the table in front of me. People sometimes observe aloud that he is authentically humble, and they could not be more right. My son’s mere conversational tone, his attentive interest in the stranger just met, his deflection of naive praise, deflate military caricatures in the time it takes to get to the second sentence.

Of the Sapper Leader course’s 28 unforgiving days and nights, my son describes nine days straight of unending ‘missions’, a bewildering kaleidoscope of hunger, sleep deprivation, and cerebral challenges. When asked, he says that he and his ‘Sapper’ comrades averaged 45 minutes of sleep every 24 hours during that phase of their training. He has lost fifteen pounds in these four weeks, his muscular face now chiseled by the lost body fat that in gentler times softens the lines of his jaw.

I hear, between his lines, the tale of countless moments when he felt that he could not do the next thing. And then found out that he could.

From my remote (and emphatically more rotund) position in the conversation, I recognize what he’s describing. No stranger to pain—though I have volunteered for less of it than my sons—I am familiar with the moment when you know you can’t. And then find out that you can. The moment when you do the next thing, the surprise when you’ve come—How does this happen?!to the other side.

This is, I think, one of the mysteries of being human. This meticulous construction of limits and limitations, and then this capacity to perforate them. This knowing that I can’t. This discovery that in fact I can.

My son is now ‘double tabbed’. He belongs to that elite cadre of my country’s soldiers who wear on their uniform two muted arcs of fabric that signal to the knowledgeable that they have been to hell and back, in a manner of speaking, two times.

One says ‘Ranger’, the other ‘Sapper’.

And that my son and others like him stand ready to deploy the dark skills and the self-mastery that are required when softer people decide that our nation needs them.

My son is not a morality play. He is not a parable of achievement. He cannot be reduced to the uniform he wears when he must. He’s my son.

But on this Sunday morning, he is a reminder—no, he has reminded me—that the moment when we cannot comes just an instant before we discover that we can. One day we will understand the mystery of being human better than we do now, this odd mingling of glory and squalor that is our nature and our fate. Perhaps this capacity to overcome will stand near to the core of what we have discovered that we are.





In the Psalms, as in life, the enemy is often hidden and relentlessly scheming. Here as in so many other of its observations, the book of Psalms displays its characteristic realism.

We are more sentimental and romantic about our adversaries, at least in those moments when we can bring ourselves to admit their existence. We do alright with evil, comfortably abstract and remote. But we resist the notion of evil people. They’re a bit too concrete for our post-modern aesthetic, where everyone gads about on pretty much the same moral plain and almost any action can be tolerated if we can just find an angle from which to understand its causes. Continue Reading »

The 150 biblical psalms go out with a bang. The fireworks of doxology grow loudest just before we fold up our lawn chairs and head for our cars. The penultimate psalm urges the faithful to populate Israel’s public spaces with the kinds of shouting, dancing, and musical bombast that invigorate a people and cause YHWH to gaze upon his own with a satisfied smile:

Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly! Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King! Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. (ESV)

Continue Reading »

«Decir que pagaron para ver a 22 mercenarios dar patadas a un balón es como decir que un violín es madera y tripa, y Hamlet, papel y tinta».

—John Boynton Priestley, escritor británico


«¿En qué se parece el fútbol a Dios? En la devoción que le tienen muchos creyentes…»

Esta es la conclusión de Eduardo Galeano en su libro El Fútbol a sol y sombra y otros escritos.

Las palabras de este escritor uruguayo abren otras venas de cómo se percibe este deporte en nuestra sociedad contemporánea. Y no es para menos; el fútbol es más que el simple encuentro de dos equipos rivales que buscan marcar goles. Continue Reading »

The Bible’s Old Testament argues for what we today call ‘monotheism’ by asking a question.

‘Who is like him?’ and ‘Who is like you?’ are the rhetorical thrusts that celebrate YHWH’s uniqueness or, more precisely, his incomparability. Continue Reading »

¿Qué significa cumplir setenta años?

Fundación Universitaria del

Seminario Bíblico de Colombia

Celebración del septuagésimo aniversario

28 marzo 2014



¡Feliz cumpleaños!


Espero que todos se sientan satisfechos, orgullosos, y alegres en una ocasión tan digna de celebrarse como la que nos convoca en esta tarde hermosa en Medellín.

Ante la invitación de poner mi grano de arena en esta gran celebración, me siento agradecido. Aunque contar los años me hace sentir un poco viejo, he sido admirador del SBC (Seminario Bíblico de Colombia) y, luego, de la FUSBC (Fundación Universitaria Seminario Bíblico de Colombia) por la tercera parte de esos setenta años de bendición y desafío que celebramos hoy. Continue Reading »


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