Feeling our way to God

This is a post I wrote for our church newsletter to give our community some direction and comfort while grieving.  I hope that in whatever circumstance you find yourself this morning it may offer a reflection and a respite from your troubles.

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All photos by Evan Schneider, taken at Merrill Creek Reservoir, NJ.

Have you ever noticed the psalms and the psalmist are a veritable jumble of human emotions?  When I first began personally reading through the Bible, I was vexed by the range of seemingly “unchristian” feelings in the psalms—despair, sorrow, rage, and vengeance—juxtaposed with the more expected and accepted—praise, wonder, and jubilation.  I didn’t understand how laments, cries of anger and defeat, even one’s heaping of curses upon one’s enemy, could be included in a Bible we hold to be the word of God, and wholly Holy.

But over the years, I’ve come to find great comfort in the fact that nearly 70% of the psalms begin with lament, that the Bible is full of unseemly, broken characters who are vindictive, fearful, and impulsive, and that the psalms are not made obsolete by the death of Jesus, but all the more powerful, prophetic, and complete.  For instance, I once heard a sermon about the fateful words that Jesus cries from the cross, lamenting, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 45-46).  If Jesus is God, how could he, of all people, lose faith? we might ask.  If God forsake Jesus, surely God may forsake us, we might fear.

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However, in that sermon, the pastor drew attention to the fact that when Jesus spoke these words, he was actually quoting Psalm 22, a psalm that like so many, begins in lament and despair and then winds its way to praise and adoration.  While the psalmist complains that God does not answer (verse 2), and he is but a worm, despised by others (v. 6), he also recalls that it was God who took him from his mother’s womb and kept him safe on his mother’s breast (v. 9).  The psalmist remarks that dogs surround him (16), and much as Jesus experienced, “for my clothing they cast lots” (18).  Yet, throughout the psalm, he cries out to God (2; 11; 19), and finally, feeling that God has heard him and rescued him (21), he turns to praise (23).  He asks that the Lord be glorified by all (27), and promises that he will live for God (29).

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By quoting a psalm so meandering and mixed emotionally, Jesus reminds us that to be human is to feel.  To be human is to feel despair, anger, and fear, but the end of Christian life is not death, but resurrection—a sign that God never forsakes us.  It’s comforting to realize that Jesus lamented, and also powerful to see that those cries to God echo a tradition that claims hope found in the midst of suffering, even death.  When you’re weary, I invite you to turn to the psalms and embrace your emotions as the psalmists did, wandering the paths of the heart to faith.  I invite you to ruminate on the fact that your wholly human self may be the best instrument to knowing our Holy God, that no emotions are “unchristian” or alien to our God, and that the God who invites us to lament and question, also promises resurrection and healing.

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