Why I Love a Couple of Downer Passages
The strange hope in lament.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
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Two of my favorite Bible passages are Psalm 88 and Lamentations 3:1–23. Now, if you're familiar with either or both of these passages, you might be wondering about my state of mind. If you're not familiar with these passages, I'll quote a few verses from each one so you, too, can wonder about my state of mind.
First, a few of verses from Psalm 88, which is written as a prayer:
"For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near" (v. 3).
"Your anger weighs me down; with wave after wave you have engulfed me" (v. 7).
"O LORD, why do you reject me? Why do you turn your face from me?" (v. 14).
And if you're thinking this psalm just has to turn a bit more hopeful or upbeat at the end, here's the last verse (spoiler alert):
"You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend" (v. 18).
Yep, that's how this down-in-the-dumps psalm ends.
So why does Psalm 88 rise near the top of my all-time favorite passages?
It's not because I get pleasure out of pain. And no, I'm not a blues singer. It has a lot to do with a struggle that started around 15 years ago. While I'd rather not get specific, my family was hurting. And it was relentless pain that lasted around 8 years. It was all very exhausting and draining. I frankly thought it would rip my life and my family apart. By the grace of God, it didn't. But for the longest time, it felt like God had pretty much abandoned me and my family.
During this season of relentless pain, well-meaning Christians would quote Bible verses to bring comfort, to cheer me up, and to snap me out of what undoubtedly appeared to be a downward spiral into despair. It didn't work.
Most of what they quoted felt sanitized and sickeningly sweet. That's when I came across Psalm 88. Honestly, it was a breath of fresh air blown from heaven. This psalm writer understands how I feel! I thought. I no longer felt like I had to slap on a smiley face and pretend like everything was great. If this guy could vent, I could too. This psalm also told me that my problem didn't have to be resolved easily like some 60-minute drama on the Hallmark channel. Life isn't easy. Life is messy. And pain can feel relentless. And I can feel abandoned by God. And remember: This psalm is a prayer. I could cry out to God in my pain. I could tell him how I really felt. No need to hide my feelings. Such relief!
But, of course, I do have a faith that's about more than just venting. Ultimately, it is a faith filled with hope. Because of God's love and redemption, the life of the believer doesn't end in a train wreck. As Billy Graham says, "I've read the last page of the Bible, it's all going to turn out all right." But I don't have to read the last page to find hope. It is sprinkled generously throughout. And that brings me to Lamentations 3:1–23.
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