Search Me, oh God of Angel Armies

I was shocked to see a fresh layer of snow on the car.  Already struggling with the bitingly cold temperature and running a few minutes late, I held an apple between my teeth and stepped out my front door.   The street lay quiet and clean in the snow, and was relatively empty save for the young man walking on the sidewalk towards me.  He had earbuds plugged firmly into his head and was freely rapping and jamming out loud, his voice slightly muted by the new snow.

The whole atmosphere was refreshing, but something inside me wasn’t appreciating the scene.  Perhaps it was a residual fear of strangers, perhaps it was worry about being late to work; regardless, I made a reflexive decision and didn’t give the man my customary nod and instead went straight for my car.  Stepping out into the street, I opened my driver side door and bent over to throw some books into the seat.

At that moment, something else didn’t feel right.  Perhaps it was the lack of rapping, perhaps it was the hint of a divine nudge;  either way, I turned to look behind me.  There stood the young man, only a few feet away.  On my side of the car.

The apple was still in my mouth, but my eyes widened in surprise.  I tried to say, “How you doing?” but it came out a garbled mess.  He didn’t hesitate and simply continued past me into the street… before migrating back to the same sidewalk and continuing his jaunt and casual vocal rapping.

I got my brush out of the back seat and cleared the snow.  I sat inside for a moment, staring through the windshield, studying the young man as he continued on his way.  I turned on the engine, drove past him, and went to work.

It bothered me the rest of the day.  I was convinced that I had nearly been the victim of a mugging/jumping/car-jacking.  After all, why did he stop rapping?  Why did he cross halfway into the street to show up behind me… only to cross back onto the same sidewalk?  I eagerly told the story to my colleagues, feeling mixed emotions and motives.  Part of me wanted to validate my theory, but a larger part wanted to boast about the experience. It seemed rather sensational and yet I had escaped unharmed.

A song that has been stuck in mind is “Whom Shall I Fear [God of Angel Armies]”

The chorus is stunning, a mash-up of verses from the Psalms and the Old Testament (2 Kings, Zechariah):

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind me

The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine

The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

For a moment, part of me felt triumphant and exultant.  After all, was it not this God who protected me?  Were there not angel armies by my side?  I do not often think about angels or spirits; I have a tendency to focus on the biological and concrete realities before me, and so this insight into the spiritual realm initially filled me with great joy and confidence.  After all, with such providence available to me, whom shall I fear?

But I have been thinking about it some more and now realize that all is not as it seems.  In writing this now, I see one small detail of great significance: I did not greet the man.  Had I simply said hello, would we have ever regarded each other with suspicion?  Would I have been struck with such pride, and would I have reinforced the negative impression of my neighborhood already carried by my colleagues?  Did I defeat in myself the very reasons for which I came to live here?

Two weeks ago and only several blocks away from me, a sixteen-year-old boy was murdered in a drive-by shooting.  I have heard multiple gunshots over the past week, and every night as I walk into my house (and now as I walk out the door), I have to take a moment to tell Him, “I commit myself into your hands.”  I have been planning to write a series on gun violence here in the city, but then experiences like today happen and I ask myself if I am crazy for doing what I do and end up writing these things late into the night.

Psalm 139, which plays so prominently in this song, reads this way:

O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.

You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain…

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

I am so grateful for a God who knows me intimately and can, with a single instance, show me His strength and reveal my weakness. He is the Christ who teaches us that perfect love casts out fear, that true might is demonstrated in the humility of the cross, that He is the Emmanuel, the God-who-dwelt-among-us.

Eugene Peterson translates the scriptural name “Lord Almighty” as  GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies.  His interpretation of this passage in Zechariah 8 reads:

A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:
“I am zealous for Zion—I care!
I’m angry about Zion—I’m involved!”
God’s Message:

“I’ve come back to Zion,
I’ve moved back to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s new names will be Truth City,
and Mountain of God-of-the-Angel-Armies,
and Mount Holiness.”

A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:

“Old men and old women will come back to Jerusalem, sit on benches on the streets and spin tales, move around safely with their canes—a good city to grow old in. And boys and girls will fill the public parks, laughing and playing—a good city to grow up in.”

A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:

“Do the problems of returning and rebuilding by just a few survivors seem too much? But is anything too much for me? Not if I have my say.”

I read words like that and I think.  I go to bed and I wake up.  I know that before these words flit across your screen, before they even crossed my mind, they were already sought out and known.

And then I know: this God of Angel Armies is always by my side.



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One response to “Search Me, oh God of Angel Armies”

  1. […] and more about what my life in the city is like. By this I mean telling the fun and juicy stories: nearly getting jumped, waking up to gunshots, living next to pedophiles & sex offenders, finding gas leaks and mice […]

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