Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Psalm 89 – When Prayers Feel Unanswered

Much like the tradition of Psalm 44, Psalm 89 commences in positive territory and finishes in scourging lamentation. This is the reverse trend of most Lament Psalms, which start as prayers for help and finish in annotations of faithfulness—almost as the Psalmist is reminded of the faithfulness of God as a concluding adjunct to their prayer.
The encouraging matter within Psalm 89 is it speaks to our experienced injustice; the fact that, as believers, we might often feel unanswered by God:
“How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?”
~Psalm 89:46 (NRSV)
This Psalm is divided into three equal portions: 1) praise for the character of God; 2) a recollection of the Davidic covenant; and, 3) the lament which rightly situates the Psalm in its actual context.
1. Praising The Character Of God
Especially in times of worship at our church meetings, we’re given reason to identify with the verses up to 18. These are typical of our feelings for God. Reading such verses reminds us of God’s faithfulness through history and, therefore, through life.
The more we praise the character of God, the more we feel blessed from within our inner beings. But not always do we feel so fiercely buoyant in our praise.
The truth is we can often recognise the wonder of God most sadistically in the times we’re missing out. The nature of God, at these times, sparks a paradoxical frustration when we sense God’s faithfulness mysteriously vacant.
2. Recollection Of The Davidic Covenant
God has promised faithfulness and blessing to his anointed: David, in the first instance, and ultimately Jesus. But we, too, can be implicated because of our divine identification with God. Yes, we too can reconcile ourselves as anointed. Many read this Psalm this way.
In our divine identification, reading ourselves as purely as we can imagine, devoid of times when our sin climbs to the forefront, we notice the goodness of God (highlighted in verses 19-37) to redeem us from moments of wickedness against us.
3. The Material Of The Lament
All of the foregoing has set up the context for the lament in verses 38-51. (Verse 52 is merely a doxology [meaning hymn of glory] for the end of Book III of the Psalter.)
When we read such material within this lament at low times it provides tremendous encouragement, for not only is there divine identification, there’s identification with the suffering servant within our lives, too. Times when we suffer and do not feel we receive the justice of God we deserve are times when we can truly identify with our Saviour.
We all feel betrayed from time to time; when God’s defence of us has fallen strangely silent. We will ask, ‘How long, O Lord?’ And we won’t like the answer. Times like these we’re invited into the suffering servant Spirit of Jesus who endured everything we have, and more. Such contemplation will help. Our perspectives are being broadened.
When we desire to understand God’s entire plan for our lives we may eventually discover why many of our prayers remain unanswered in the affirmative.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

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