Sometimes life is confusing and we tell God that it is. This can take some practice because we think speaking harshly to God is somehow wrong. But if we are confused, we need to tell God about it. Life, as Walter Brueggemann states, â€œis also savagely marked by incoherence, a loss of balance, and unrelieved asymmetry.â€
Divorce and bad relations with parents and friends and workers, economic downturns or the loss of a job, expectation for funds to come that donâ€™t, sudden shifts in direction by our employers who make us redundant (a dreaded insensitive word), things going wrong at the wrong time for the wrong reasons with bad results, the experience of people in power manipulating themselves to the top, surrendering hope in the face of systemic evil and injustice, children being abused by parents or friends or siblings, failure to get the employment we knew was designed (by God) for us â€“ and we could list more. The point is the same: sometimes life stiff arms us and leaves us reeling and gasping for breath. Again, Walter Brueggemann: â€œeverything must be brought to speech, and everything brought to speech must be addressed to God, who is the final reference for all of life.â€
Confusion is nothing new the psalmists tell us. In fact, the Psalms are the one source in the Bible that encourage us to vent our frustrations and worries and to tell God how we feel â€“ whether good or bad. God did not censor the psalmists and God wonâ€™t censor us. Come as you are, is the message of the Psalms. Ask “why?” and “where are you God?”
The question â€œWhy?â€ is a psalmic question and the experience of Katrina is an event capable of intense exploration. I was troubled by all the finger-pointing and blame-naming, but I was even more troubled by the many who seemed not to care. Those who were staggered in confusion from injustices and who wanted to denounce someone or some institution who should have acted sooner will find more support in the Bible than those who sat back to ponder if this was Godâ€™s will or not (yes, there were blogs that explored that very question). To be sure, denouncing is ugly and some of those blamed were not to blame, but holy discontent or righteous indignation jumps from the pages of the Psalms because the Psalms give expression to the honest human heart.
In confusion all sorts of emotions and thinking come to the surface, including bitterness, bewilderment, doubt, accusation, blame, and hope for revenge. This may not all be where God wants us to end up, but if we experience injustice there is no reason to finish the sentence with a smiley face. Instead, it might be more useful to scorch the paper with a hot pen. At least that is what many of the psalms do.
Notice these words from the fifty-eighth psalm:
Injustice is what the people are experiencing, and they know the rulers are to blame. The poet now turns on the unjust rulers and turns to God with an honest heart and pleads for God to act and to end the injustice. The poetâ€™s language is graphic.
O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
Let them vanish like water that runs away;
like grass let them be trodden down and wither.
Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime;
like the untimely birth that never sees the sun.
Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!
This psalm wasnâ€™t originally given for those in the south who experienced injustice, but the words must have worked for those who knew this psalm by heart. In our times of confusion we seek for justice, and the Psalms often give us the right words to say. Ugly thoughts and ugly feelings deserve ugly expressions.
Sometimes the confusion results in humans accusing God of doing nothing. This, too, is both honest and not uncommon to humans. Notice how often the psalmists ask this question:
â€œHow long, O Lord?â€
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
These opening words of the thirteenth psalm are the tip of the iceberg: often the psalmists wonder if God is the one they ought to blame.
Knowing words like this comes to those who regularly recite the Psalms. Many, so it seems to me, are afraid to use language like this when they speak to God, but a genuine heart will sometimes say to God â€œDo you care what goes on down here on Planet Earth? Why, if you do, donâ€™t you do something about it?â€ I fear not those who ask this question but those who think asking such questions is somehow unworthy of humans who love and trust God.
Other Psalms expressing confusion
12â€”13, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79â€”80, 83, 85, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129, 137