Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember
the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways
according to your love
for you, Lord, are good.
– Psalm 25:6-7 –
Why have you forsaken me.
Jesus, praying Psalm 22
It is a damn shame to try to use our logic to absolve God when our hearts are breaking.
Everything happens for a reason, says the preacher, but we have lost it all.
God works all things for the good, says the chaplain, but everything is darkness.
God is good, all the time, all the time, God is good, says the neighbor, but God doesn’t feel good.
We spend a lot of time trying to absolve God, because it is too scary to live in a world where God might be guilty.
We absolve God by saying all things work for the good to protect Him. We’re protecting Him because we’re scared that if we say what we fear, our deepest fears of abandonment, our fear that the universe might be chaotic, our fear that bad things happen to good people for no reason except that the world is cruel – if we say that to God, He will not have an answer. So we absolve God.
Not for God’s sake. For our own sake.
We don’t just say it to ourselves, we say it to each other too, which can be really painful for people suffering. When someone tells us about suffering in their lives, we tell them that it is all part of a greater plan. We respond to them out of our own anxiety. We can’t sit with their pain, because their pain stirred up our own anxiety. Platitudes and cliches are painkillers that deaden our anxiety, but they also keep us from burrowing into our pain and finding its root. Cliches can mask, but they can’t heal.
So when we suffer, or our friends suffer, we pour our energy into absolving God personally and publically. We refuse to ask God why God is gone, but keep pretending that God is there. Like couples aggressively posting social media posts about how great their crumbling relationship is, we tell everyone in church that we are trusting God and that God is with us, even when we feel abandoned and alone. We would bite our own tongues off before we have the courage to pray
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
This week, the lectionary has put us in Psalm 22 and 25.
Psalm 22, the forsakenness that Jesus prayed on the Cross before He would absolve His own Father.
Psalm 25, that begs God to remember His own character.
Brueggemann, in his essay “The Psalms as Prayer,” says that in the psalms, Israel “prays God’s character back to God” . “Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old,” the psalmist begs in Psalm 25. God seems to have become “careless about [God’s] identity and character,” and the psalmist is demanding that God remember who He is .
The Psalms are brave as hell.
The Psalms ask God to remember His own character, which is brave for a lot of reasons. It’s brave to presume to instruct the God of gods, Lord of lords, King of kings. How dare we? How dare we not assume that God knows what He’s doing, and that He has everything under control? How dare we tell God to remember His goodness, as if God has forgotten? What hubris!
And it takes courage because what a scary thing, to look evil and suffering in the face and not excuse it.
To feel all of this without a pain killer.
But here is the psalmist, again and again, frankly telling God that it is not ok.
We live in a cruel and hard world. We always have, but Western white Christians have been insulated from corruption, violence, oppression for a long time. We cruised along, dropping aphorisms in the face of other people’s pain. God bless America.
And now, in the face of more suffering, our painkillers are not as effective for those of us who have walked in privilege for too long.
All that is left is lament, and the growing fear that God is silent.
So tell God that.
Say it out loud.
Say it to His face.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?
God, don’t forget your own character. You told us you were good. So be good.
This is the subversive, courageous, and honest prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 25 and 22.
The psalmist, a human, a silly person who can only see a small part of the world, is brave enough to look up and say you revealed yourself to us as a good God, a God of justice and a God of loving-kindness. I am not sure you remember that today. Let me remind you.
Have you reminded God of God’s character today?
This Lent, practice lament. Practice the lament of the psalmist, that doesn’t force itself to be hopeful.
Practice the kind of trust that doesn’t need to protect God from your worst fears about Him. Say it out loud. You won’t break Him.
Because the psalms also are full of the kind of trust in God that is only possible once we acknowledge that the worst is possible, too.
Trust is not something we manufacture because we have ignored our pain, but what comes on the other side of fully acknowledging our pain. When we speak to ourselves in cliches, we’re taking spiritual painkillers, and it is hard to encounter God. We surround ourselves with walls to keep the pain out, but that keeps us from encountering our true self, and keeps our true self out of contact with the Divine. And how can we trust Someone that we don’t know? How can we trust Someone that we have been insulating ourselves from, out of fear that He is not strong enough for our worst fears?
Once those walls are ripped down, we start to know why the psalmist was still singing out trust in God in one minute while lamenting the next. My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only He will release my feet from the snare. The more honest we are with God, the more our true self encounters the true God. For how can we meet the gods face to face til we have faces?
This Lent, practice the faithful lament of the psalmists who trusted God enough not to protect Him.