Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Psalms and lament

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
   How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
   and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
   Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!
Give light to my eyes,
   or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
   my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
        - Psalm 13.1-4

Our willingness to expose our pain is the means God gives us to help identify and respond to evil and injustice. For creation is not as it ought to be. The lament is a cry of protest schooled by our faith in a God who would have us serve the world by exposing its false comforts and deceptions. From such a perspective one of the profoundest forms of faithlessness is the unwillingness to acknowledge our inexplicable suffering and pain. ... "[Lament] leads us to the dangerous acknowledgement of how life really is. [It leads us] to think unthinkable thoughts and utter unutterable words. Perhaps worst, [the psalms of lament] leads us away from the comfortable religious claims of ‘modernity’ in which everything is managed and controlled. [We believe] that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness. But our honest experience, both personal and public, attests to the resilience of the darkness."

- Stanley Hauerwas, Naming the Silences: God, Medicine,
and the Problem of Suffering
(Eerdmans: 1990), 82-83.
Internal quote from Brueggemann.

We have a problem. Too often, we jump forward to the solution in an effort to avoid the full seriousness of our predicament. Too many attempts to discuss suffering end up making light of it, by making it merely a means to a beneficial end: it will teach us perseverence; it will build our community; it will chastise our faults; it will enable us to minister to others who suffer; it will bring glory to God. Any or all of these may be true - or true at least some of the time - yet any attempt to make positive outcomes into the purpose and meaning of all suffering is cruel. And it makes God cruel. There is no need to justify suffering through recourse to a 'greater good' that is served by it. God may bring from it greater - or lesser - goods, but these are not its meaning.

So let us first simply acknowledge that it hurts and is wrong, and let us lament and protest. The God we worship 'is not a God who needs protection from our cries and suffering.' (Hauerwas, 84)

3 comments:

Jill said...

What are blessing the Psalms are to those who are in pain.
Particularly Psalm 88 where there is no closing verse of hope.
And yet somehow just bringing our pain before God, I think must bring him glory

O LORD, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of trouble
and my life draws near the grave.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily upon me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, O LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
But I cry to you for help, O LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, O LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death;
I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend.

byron said...

Yes - what a powerful end. Such psalms show the complexity of Christian hope. God is the only one to whom we can bring our cries of distress, yet God is the one waiting too.

byron smith said...

Ben Myers on why we sing the psalms.