Recently a co-worker committed suicide. Today a friend waits anxiously for tomorrow’s surgery. Another waits afraid and knows not when he will be called for a heart operation. A fourth just found out that he has cancer in his liver and other organs, and has only 2 to 12 months.
Recently I shared with a Facebook friend that I too, often ask “Why?”
These are all people who have a vibrant relationship with the Savior, with the One who can make a difference, who can change everything. Yet the change hasn’t happened.
After reading “A Sacred Sorrow” by Michael Card, I have looked at the psalms more often. In them I encounter God who often seems distant, but who, in reality, is closer than the psalmist even realized. God breathed out the very words that I take in when I’m reading the psalms!
My co-worker a few months before his death posted a quote from D. Bonhoeffer which said, “The Psalms are the prayer book of Jesus.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. It means that Jesus didn’t just pray Psalm 23, which we all know and love. He also prayed Psalm 80, were the writer three times looks for God to “shine His face” on him, which is ironic because the blessing the priests were to bless people of Israel with this blessing:
“May the LORD bless you and keep you and make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the LORD look upon you with favor and give you peace.”
That means that God knew, when the psalm 80 was written, that it sometimes seems to us that we are NOT blessed. God knows we will pass through very hard times. And he gave us these psalms to help us speak our pain back to him.
Jesus, as a pious Jew, prayed methodically through the psalms. This means that even the imprecatory psalms were spoken back to the Father by Jesus. (Imprecatory psalms are the “cursing psalms” where the writer vents his deepest frustrations and asks God to strike down his enemies, mercilessly.)
As I think about this, I’m beginning to see what it means to be a human in this fallen world, to yearn for the Redeemer and his redemption which has been revealed but is not yet in it’s fullness.
By praying all the psalms back to God, Jesus sanctified these emotions. By interceding for me now, he sanctifies my pain. The Holy One spoke this whole range of emotions back to God throughout his earthly life.
He knew rejection and persecution, unanswered prayers. And yet he remained faithful. And he was raised, and he promises that those who are “in Christ” will be raised too; regardless how bad it is now in this world, there is a better one, a renewed, future one without pain and death.
Psalm 80 is one of the few laments that doesn’t have the “oracle of salvation” which is that part of the lament where the tone inexplicably changes from dire to hopeful, from despair to joy. This tells me that it’s OK to be in the “why God” place. We can stay there for as long as we need. We might not have our prayer answered. Jesus knows that.
But the psalm ends as a conversation with God. The writer doesn’t turn his back on God, he stays there in the conversation, even though it’s painful. I want to tell you friends, to hang in there, to stay in the conversation, to pray, to wait, to hope. Jesus and I are in the conversation with you, beside you. And when I fail, Jesus won’t. He’s still beside you. His Spirit is praying through you.
I hope this is a light for you, even though it seems pretty dark.