Do me a favor and please read Psalm 74.
Psalm 74 is unique and yet not unique to all we’ve read thus so far in the psalms. It matches quite a few different psalms in its content, in its crying out to God to be saved and for God to simply remember his people – but what makes this psalm so different than many of the other ones is that it never comes around to simply joyful-praise. The psalmist, from verse 1 all the way through 23, simply begs God to remember them. These are 23 verses of unknown, despair, and confusion
The truth of the matter is that sometimes, when we’re in deep despair and darkness, we don’t want to “praise” God with the normal words of hope. The honesty of the situation is that sometimes our darkness remains dark and the furthest thing from our minds is praising God or promising to praise him soon.
Sometimes…our complaints and feelings of despair simply remain in that space.
This poem, or song, of Asaph is one that simply allows the singer to be in their space/place. Asaph, as they look around their beloved city, sees everything that means something to them in ruins…and as they take in their surroundings the only thing that can come to mind as to why this would happen is that God was angry and has rejected his covenantal people. The only reason any of this could happen, the only reason God’s sanctuary would be so abused, the only reason the city of Jerusalem would be ransacked like it has is because God has allowed it. And so as they look around they simply want to know why. None of it makes sense to them.
One thing that is really hard for me (as a husband/father/friend/Pastor) is to allow pain, despair, and grief to be exactly those things and those things only. So often I want to bring comfort to people by listening to them and then trying to offer words of encouragement and hope. So often we want to encourage the one in despair to find the “bright” side or remember the fact that God is good and working all things out. That no matter where we are or what we are going through God will not abandon, nor forsake and his grace will never relent. And while those are true the problem is that those are things the person knows already and doesn’t need me to remind them of that. Sometimes the person simply needs to lament without a theological diagnosis and explanation to their problems and observations.
I think I could easily write a few blogs about WHY we don’t like this “space” of lament. I think it’s uncomfortable for us to see others there, I think we want to “help” and our “help” comes across as not actually what the person wants but a reflection of our own uncomfortableness. I think we are UNCOMFORTABLE with lament and questioning God and his motives or reasons – and a whole myriad of other reasons but I think for me I’m simply uncomfortable with the “why” questions when it pertains to people being in pain or suffering. I don’t know why God allows starvation or destruction. I don’t know why a loving God allows things of this world to go the way they do, and so sitting with someone who is asking those exact questions makes me want to move them out from there and into a place of praise. But I think that right there is my issue. We’ve allowed “lament” to become NOT praise…which is absolutely wrong.
Psalm 74 is an honest-truth psalm that reminds those that are in a relationship with God that that relationship has ups and downs – questions and answers. Sometimes we are in a good place and sometimes we are not. Sometimes those situations overlap and we can dig out a piece of our darkness and find grace and hope – other times we cannot. And all of those are OK and natural. We simply don’t know what is going on and why God is doing what God is doing. But even more so we need to remember that not only is God big enough for our praises but he’s definitely big enough for our frustrations, questions, pains, and even anger. It’s called a relationship for a reason…and we actually see that here. The psalmist, even though is confused and unsure of what is going on or why God is so angry…they still lift up their concerns, unknowns, confusions, and despairs to God. He doesn’t promise that he’ll “praise him again when God restores the Temple because he knows God will restore eventually…”– that’s not the point of the psalm or the place he’s in or even anything remotely to being said. He’s confused…he’s angry…he’s hurting and that space simply needs to be that space. WE’RE the ones that are uncomfortable with not taking it to a praise that makes us “feel good” – but here’s the thing: this is still praise. He’s still reaching out to God. He still recognizes the relationship and he DEFINITELY still knows and declares that God is in completely control of not only the city but the people (read the psalm again if you don’t believe me).
I think we do a disservice to our own faith, our relationship with God, as well as our relationship with others when we try to take our pain and discomfort into a place where it simply is not ready to go. Sometimes we simply need to work through the darkness in order to fully understand the light. Sometimes asking “why” simply needs to be that: asking without the need of working through it.