Monday, November 2, 2009

Meditation 2: Academic

I have been trying to post this for awhile, but Blogger isn't overly enthusiastic in its welcome of documents from Word. It's also so academic that perhaps it is of no interest. But since the genesis of my paper and presentation (this Friday) lies in the events of fourteen months ago , it's meaningful to me. Finally, herewith, and nevertheless, the opening (for the time being) to my exegesis paper on Psalm 88:

Psalm 88 is a startling contribution to the Psalter. It is the only one of the 150 psalms that includes not a single explicit word of praise or thanksgiving.* It neither blatantly extols God nor celebrates God’s handiwork; it does not resolve a cry of anguish or sorrow into one of gratitude and triumph. It is a lengthy and relentless song of lament, accusation, and horror, unrelieved at any point by even a hint of explicit optimism. It has been called “an embarrassment to conventional faith” – “adamant in its insistence and harsh on Yahweh’s unresponsiveness,** and many commentators have sought either to interpret away its starkness or to rail against its inclusion in the Psalter.

However, Psalm 88 belongs in our Scriptures as a genuine, no-holds-barred expression of the sense of abandonment and loss that accompanies real-life devastation. It has a legitimate place in our compilation of the relationship between God and human as an expression of the darkness, the anger, and the bewilderment that accompany life’s most desolating events. It is only those not yet versed in the torments of life who could suggest that Psalm 88 be discarded. While “[i]n ‘proper’ religion, the expression should not be expressed . . . it is also the case that these experiences should not be experienced."**

Since these experiences are, in fact, experienced, it would be rejection of God, a conclusion that God’s silence is, in fact, the final “word” (in the Hebrew sense of event, thing, or deed) in the face of disaster, for the Psalmist to remain silent in turn. And it would be a denial of God’s interest or engagement in the depth and profundity of the worst experiences of darkness in the human experience to respond to God’s silence with a chattering insistence that “all is for the best.” To rail against God, to accuse God of disinvestment, to comment sarcastically on the consequences to God of God’s departure, to insist upon describing to God in minute detail the agonies of one’s existence – all of those movements in Psalm 88 bespeak an individual whose relationship to God has been one of such intimacy that he or she continues to honor it in the context of fury and confusion and refuses to accept without remonstrance silence on the part of God.

(*James Boice, Psalms (1994) 42-106 and **Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (1984), 78 and 53.


Karen said...

Excellent intro. I hope we get to read the whole thing bit-by-bit. I think maybe you have the structure for a book that addresses the apparent silence of God in suffering. It seems so to me.

Thank you and forge on. This is a good thing you are doing.

Cynthia said...


Diane said...

thanks for sharing....

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting that. It is those who have not experienced such agony that do not feel comfortable with such a Psalm. But for a sad, small group of us that Pslam is an invitation to be where we are at with God. And for that I am thankful.

Thank you so much.

Beach Walkin said...

Great job! If all of the psalms were of praise and thanksgiving... I would be in a world of hurt... because there are many times when I just need to fuss at God. Thanks for sharing!