June 8, 2010

Singing & Praising God In Our Suffering

Psalms [Hbw: tehillim: תְהִלִּים] [Gk: psalmoi: ψαλμοί] meaning "songs sung to a harp or stringed instrument". The collection of 150 in the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament are taken together as a whole to express virtually the full range of Israel's faith in the Old Testament. They also express a wide range of faith of Christian's too. Psalms are essentially praises to God.

Now, lets take this another step. There are laments in Psalms. Yes, lament as in a expression of grief or suffering. This is so counter-intuitive to our culture today that it seems absurd. To sing to God in our suffering or in our cries. Many in our me-me I-I culture would view this as nearly sadistic. People (non-believers and some believers alike) can't visualize a God that would supposedly allow suffering and still accept praise and worship. Apparently the God that they visualize doesn't exist. Because a kind and loving God does allow worship during those "down" times in people's lives. People that would say such a thing clearly would've not read other instances of God being praised in the Bible in times of hardship either. They also do not have a very clear understanding of God or the Christian faith in general. A lament (petition) psalms outline is below.

(1) Open/Begin: Invocation or cry to God "My God, My God!" (Psalms 22)
(1a) By association (Matthew 27:35-36) "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?"
(1b) Like Luke we see another example of Jesus using a "individual lament" as mentioned below.

(2) The Plea: For help "to deliver", "to hear", "to vindicate" (Psalms 33:19)

(3) Occasionally a Question: "Why am I being punished"

(4) Cry for Help often contains: A motive for confidence
(4a)The Confidence is often times: God's mercy & grace (Psalms 25:6)

(5) If It's Punishment: There is a cry or plea of repentance

(6) The Lament will then usually end with a hymn of praise

This isn't always a science or an exact pattern because pain isn't always linear and punishment is relative to the sinner (or person carrying the sin in Jesus' case). Sin takes on a life and timetable of its own in relation to the sinner(s) and their life/lives and timetable(s).

It's kind of like pleading for help with a song or melody [μελῳδία] as the backbone behind it. Morbid you say? We do it all the time in our pop culture, except we do not do it to God, we do it to a lost love (man/woman), we do it over a tragedy. We pine away to things or to people that cannot fix the problem when we really should be pining away to the One who can actually assist in fixing or actually fix the problem. It is sad really, we basically are worshipping false God's when we do this.

Lament Psalms are often desperate petition on behalf of the believer. They have a purpose. They are obviously not used when people are happy. They are also a mode of communication with a holy God during a time of suffering or grief for a human being. In these situations humans are usually acutely aware of their limitations and even the most arrogant are often humbled. It is not a huge stretch of the imagination to consider that man would turn to God in these situations in complete subservience and docitlity and cling to and worship the last thing they have left that can save them.

These times of grief and suffering are often the best "teachable moments" or the best time for God to work in a person life. In these states people are often open to new or strange ideas to ease or relieve their suffering or torment. God can then work new things in through these new avenues that were not available before because of either too much sin blocking the entrance (God will not enter where He is not welcomed, he wants you to accept Him), or it is just a new unexpected angle or source that a stubbron person would've never allowed an answer to come from before. In our arrogance we often think we know better and block God's assitence by not recognizing it. This is especially true when the help comes from our enemies or from pain. Sometimes these hardened areas require more work, hard fearless moral inventory of ourselves or acceptance of ideas we can't stand and sometimes from people we can't stand. Our enemies are always the best judge of our faults and weaknesses.

To those that do not fully understand the Christian faith (beleiver and non-believer alike) I present the most profound example of a lament being praise.

The entire faith of Christianity revolves around an incarnate God being put through the worst pain imaginable...because He loved and the truth is that He was the only man in history that didn't deserve to suffer or be punished. The ultimate painful irony. Although it isn't exactly a praise to the Father it is a total trust in Him to do things in Jesus' best eternal interest which is to say our best interests also. A statement of total trust and faith is the same thing as praising and calling on Father in a time of suffering. At the heart of this is a Psalm of confidence, confidence in God's goodness,just, righteousness, etc. It shows that you should commit your total being and life to His purposes (It's the reason we are called to give ourselves as living sacrifices in Romans 12). We hear Jesus Christ in the peak of inhumane torment and agony make a final statement committing Himself to the father in Luke:

"And speaking in a loud voice, Jesus said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit". ~Luke 23:46

This verse is based on Psalms 31:5 which is...what else? An "individual lament" in the first half of Chapter 31. The second half of Psalm 31 is a "thanksgiving lament". The lament portion of Psalms 31:1-5 is the invocation/prayer or God's righteousness and by Jesus invoking this prayer he is essentailly making a final statement that His faith and trust in the Father never wavered even unto the bitter torturous end. God would provide even through the ungodly pain. Jesus' final expression is an expression of trust and confidence and is praise to the Father through a lament. Even in Jesus' and the Psalmist's minutes of greatest need they trusted God and did not loose "heart".

Jesus wasn't exactly "singing" a song on the cross...but his heart was. Total and absolute reliance on the Father through Jesus' steadfast confidence and belief in the righteous, holy intents and will of the Father. He knew where He was going and trusted the Father to get Him there.

Jesus Christ and the Psalms are not the only reflection or example of the lament psalm in the Bible reflecting this attitude either. Job: Chapter 1 shows another indelible example of praise during a time of unbearable suffering. Not only didn't Job curse God for his misfortune, he did just the opposite. We see a slight shadow of Christ in Chapter 1 or Job.

"While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, "Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you! At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing."~Job 1:18-22

1 comment:

ArtWerx said...

these are great thoughts. when i'm sick & go ahead & praise God anyway, i reckon the spirit of infirmity that has a claw in me is getting a major, nasty Zatz! (:D i also find when i state out loud that i'm going to Heaven & no evil beings will be coming along with me, it seems to basically "clear the room" & deliver me instantly from evil. they don't like to be reminded!

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