The biblical witness privileges the anxiety that we resist.
Taking up a motif that is common to the Old Testament prophets, the Book of Revelation celebrates the demise of ‘Babylon’ by mocking the ease in which she had luxuriated.
Give her (that is, to Babylon) as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn. (Revelation 18:7 NIV)
It is often this way when a privileged class of human beings or an erstwhile superpower comes under YHWH’s judgment. Sarcastic irony is deployed against the certainty with which the fallen victim once assumed that his wealth and safety would endure forever. When one gathers such statements together, it appears almost as though presumption itself stands as an indictment again the one who deploys it to ward off the fear of fragility that lesser mortals endure as a feature of everyday life.
By contrast, Psalm 146 dares to suggest that true security consists in YHWH’s attentive care. The very first psalm, with its more famous lyric of trust, finds its final voice by asserting that ‘the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.’ Taking up that theme, the one hundred forty-sixth claims that YHWH’s gaze falls most resolutely on those who might have been presumed to escape his notice altogether:
The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. (Psalm 146:9 NIV)
The alien, the fatherless, and the widow know anxiety of a most immediate kind. Will I eat today? Will I have shelter from tomorrow’s rain? Will my little patch of soil be mine at next harvest or will my powerful neighbor have annexed it to his own expanse?
Such defenselessness is not experienced, apart from the psalm’s and Revelation’s sort of perceptiveness, as security. The careful reader begins to wonder whether it is safe to be completely safe.
Yet Babylon can fall in a moment, leaving its stunned proprietors to fend for themselves among the smoke and ashes. They had so much to lose, and lost it all. Their calamity is loud melodrama.
Meanwhile, in this psalm’s vision, the alien chews his little morsel, hardly noticing the spectacle. The orphan gets through one more day. The widow remembers a husband who brought bread through that door and thinks to herself that YHWH is a bit like that.