Moaning at God (03-07-20)
Bible Reading: Psalm 13:1-2, 5-6
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
I was struck by the comment of a young man in his early twenties, who, after fifteen weeks in lockdown, said he just felt sad. I know what he means. I watch empty buses stop each morning and evening outside the Rectory. Occasionally there may be one person on board, tucked away in the farthest corner upstairs on a double-decker. Some mornings I catch sight of one parent and child on their way to school, and I feel sad too. These are powerful reminders that life is not normal. Even if restrictions are lifted a little more this weekend, life with Coronavirus is far from over, and even as restrictions are lifted here, the lockdown around Leicester has been extended further due to a spike in cases.
It is on these occasions that I turn to the book of Psalms, the hymnbook of the ancient Jews. We can relate to the psalms because they express our feelings. Over two thirds of the Psalms are cries of lament, in which the emotions can be very raw indeed. Lament allows us to have a good rant, complaining bitterly, demanding an end to trouble and suffering, expressing our fears of illness and death. God is moaned at, raged at, castigated, blamed, entreated, begged. ‘How long?’ is a frequent cry, demanding an answer even when we know full well there is none to give.
Sometimes we are embarrassed by the intensity of emotion of these psalms, finding the rawer parts of our nature distasteful. Perhaps we think Christians should not have such feelings. It’s worth remembering that the book of Psalms was the hymnbook Jesus used. He would have learnt all 150 by heart from his childhood, and it was one of the Psalms that he cried out and prayed in anguish on the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Psalm 22)
In the midst of confusion and doubt, the psalmists help us to hang on to a deep-seated, underlying belief that, no matter what the situation, it is worth praying, and that God will hear and respond eventually if not immediately. In most psalms of lament, after a good moan and outpouring of complaint, we reach a ‘but’ or ‘yet’ or ‘even so’. We find reassurance that God is always listening, we affirm that sooner or later he will intervene and come to our rescue. Finally, we return to worship, giving praise to a God who is for ever faithful, merciful and full of compassion.
I often find it helpful to re-write Psalms in my own words for the situations I am facing, so here is my version of the verses above with Coronavirus (the enemy) in mind:
How long, Lord? Will you forget us forever? How long will you hide your face from us? How long must we wrestle with social distancing from family and friends, causing sadness in our hearts day after day? How long will Coronavirus triumph over us?
But we trust in your unfailing love; our hearts rejoice in your salvation. We will declare the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to us. Amen.