Monday, February 8, 2016

Songs of the Brokenhearted

This morning I was delighted to speak in the chapel assembly at my alma mater, Florida College. Here are my remarks.

Songs of the Brokenhearted

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

 (Psalm 22:1-2)

Christ in Gethsemane, by Michael O'Brien
Those are the opening words of the 22nd psalm, probably more familiar to us as one of the few utterances of Jesus on the cross. It comes from a category of psalms you learn about in Old Testament Poetry called laments, songs of the brokenhearted. The grief expressed in these psalms may be caused by a catastrophic defeat in battle, or a grave illness, or a grievous personal failing. Or, as in the case of Psalm 22, by the hounding of enemies who threaten to take the psalmist’s life.

In the time since I was in school here I have noticed a wonderful trend in the songs we sing together. The book we used when I was a student contained very few songs straight out of the Book of Psalms. But the book you use now incorporates a lot of them. And yet, even with this wider use of the biblical psalms in our hymnals, I can’t think of any psalms like this one in our songbooks. 

Why is that? Ancient Israel sang them - by one count 70 of the 150 psalms are songs of mourning. The early Christians sang them - Jesus prayed one of them on the cross. So why our hesitance in using these psalms in our worship?

I wonder if it’s because we are uncomfortable being so direct with God, so transparent about our disappointments and frustrations with Him. “Why are you so far from saving me!” I don’t know about you, but I am reluctant to speak like this with God.

And in our churches and on a campus like Florida College, we can feel a certain pressure to be up all the time, to be unfailingly cheerful, as if every day brings a new victory. But that is not what life in the real world is like. In the real world we sometimes fail miserably. In the real world we see loved ones suffer. In the real world we have days where it feels like our world is falling apart. These psalms are the for those who are completely disoriented by disappointment. 

From our point of view, we understand that these ancient songs were inspired by God. That means that when these songs cry out in doubt and despair, it is ultimately God’s word that is being spoken. God gave these songs to His people, to us. And that tells me that while I may be uncomfortable with some of this language, God is not. We might have social expectations that everyone is happy all the time, but God does not. He doesn’t expect us to be happy - just honest.

And He wants us to be honest with Him, with how we feel about His relationship with us. Israel used these psalms in their collective worship at the temple, the place where Lord’s presence was its most immediate. It was in the very house of God that the Israelites complained about God to God! “Why have you forsaken me?” 

The most dangerous thing we can ever do is try to keep our broken-heartedness from God. Because once we start partitioning a section of our heart from God, we are deluding ourselves into thinking He doesn’t really know us from the inside-out, and that is the pathway to hypocrisy.

Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” The first step in that healing process is to tell God that our hearts are broken. 

And we can tell Him that - we can truly cast all our cares on Him, because He cares for us. And in those moments of transparency with God, when we tell Him it feels like He has utterly forsaken us, we can know that He cares, because when He entered our story in Jesus of Nazareth, He said the same thing. The joy of the Christian is not the absence of sorrow, but the presence of God in the midst of our sorrow. Through these psalms and in the cross we know that God is with us and for us.

1 comment: