I remember rebuilding an engine with my father-in-law a few years ago. I am a fairly handy guy. I can fix just about anything if I can find the time. I can work on stuff around the house, take down big trees with my chainsaw, build furniture from scratch. But if you place me in front of an engine, I freeze. I have no idea how things work. All I can see is a big chunk of metal.
There are two obvious challenges to reading Psalm 136. First, you may feel like I do when looking under the hood of a car: you see one thing. You see the phrase, “His love is eternal,” and it is hard to look past it to the other dynamics of the song. It starts to sound like a broken record no matter how many times you read it because the refrain is all you can see.
Or, you may be like my father-in-law who is a genius with cars. He understands the story of the engine. He looks beyond the big chunk of metal to how all the pieces work together. You might be one who sees the alternating lines, the unfolding story of creation and redemption.
If we want to read this Psalm well, we have to see both the big picture and the details at the same time. They work together. Through the story, God reveals to us that His love is eternal. And because of His eternal love, the story exists. Each aspect of this Psalm comments on the other.
Father Patrick Reardon, in his book Christ in the Psalms, says this Psalm is about “creation, deliverance, and the continued care of the redeemed.” Psalm 136 is about the “ongoingness” of God’s love. Out of His love God created. Out of His love He delivered and redeemed. And out of His love He will hold His people up, move them forward, and continually guide them in His ways.
If that is God’s story and we are God’s people, then this is our story as well. We are created out of love. We are redeemed by it. And we will be held up by it. When our faith is in Christ, we are the recipients of this wonderful truth, and our stories prove this Psalm true over and over again. Give thanks to God for His unfailing, unending, always-keeping love.
written by Father Aaron Wright