Sunday, December 4, 2011

Psalm 44 – When Good Memories Sadden the Heart

“Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.”

~Psalm 44:26 (NRSV)

As far as the biblical psalms are concerned, this one is different. Indeed, it has only one cousin—Psalm 88. All other psalms seem as distant relatives, the progeny of better times, even the saddest of laments.

This psalm starts positively, in recalling a past where God was entirely faithful in delivering the nation of Israel, but it collectively speaks of a lost hope, before finishing as a desperate but weak plea.

If we have suffered much in this life we can relate, perhaps as we reflect over better times, lamenting our present sadness in comparison. Some memories seem too good.

The Original Context

We may not readily relate in the culture of our present-day; this psalm speaks of national defeat, perhaps of military proportions. From victor to weakling the community in focus has become.

In this setting it’s clear that the nation has not turned back on God, but they feel betrayed by him. Their thoughts seem to be: “We have not forgotten you, Lord, but you have forgotten us.”

In certain terms, within the thought-realm of the traditionalist, such a thought might be considered blasphemy; nothing could be further from the truth. Such an ‘accusation’ might otherwise be considered a fervent expression of faith, for their reliance is, apparently, on God alone.

This Psalm’s Relevance Today

What, on the surface, might seem a blasphemy actually declares, for us, an ironical universal encouragement—if this is God’s Word, and it allows the psalmist free rein in sharing their true emotions with the Lord, then we too have that same privilege.

Indeed, when we consider that we, too, will feel abject disappointment in the presence of faithfulness regarding our relationship with God—despite our general sinfulness—we sense we, also, have the right of honest testimony and forthright appeal before the Lord.

What’s more, God invites us, through this Scripture, to employ that right.

The Difference Truth Makes

The truth of God’s Word, as witnessed by this psalm, always makes a tremendous difference in the living of real life where the pain is.

It would be difficult to imagine a situation much worse than national calamity, whereby the entire community is bereft of hope for what has taken place. But, personal calamity is strangely no different, for we polarise into ourselves and our sense of hopelessness can blind us to the faith that might help us claw out of it.

The truth comes to the rescue of the needy; God’s power, and the sponsorship of Divine hope, prevails most readily in weakness.

What is such a common experience—good memories that might haunt us because today is not so good in comparison—is also the validation of the Lord. Our God listens to the lament of our hearts.

Often we just need to know God hears; God understands; God allows for the fullest expression of our pain.

Whoever has enjoyed goodness, and yet they suffer, without having yet been delivered, they will experience the feeling conveyed in this psalm. It is a psalm, therefore, ripe with hope.

God is the hope of humankind. More specifically, though, the Lord is most intimate with those deep in their struggle.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

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