Proper 7, June 19
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
(Psalm 42:5, Psalm 42:11, Psalm 43:5)
The Psalms can be uplifting, comforting, inspiring. Sometimes the Psalms are simply reassuring, just when we need it most. The Psalms teach us that we are not the only people who have struggled with the questions of faith: Why did this happen? Where was God? How could God allow that? Or:
When shall I come and behold the face of God? (Psalm 42:2)
“Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:3)
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
Why are you disquieted within me? (Psalm 42:5, 42:11, and 43:5)
Why have you forgotten about me? (Psalm 42:9)
Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me? (Psalm 42:9, Psalm 43:2)
Why have you cast me off? (Psalm 43:2)
Can we live without the answers? Can we allow ourselves to be reassured by the questions alone?
We have all heard the so-called answers that well-meaning Christian friends and families and pastors sometimes give, and the truth is, those anwers don’t make us feel any better. If anything, they make us feel worse because we “should” feel better! They usually include some version of “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.” Maybe we’ve even tried to offer those answers ourselves, when we’ve been at a loss for words, when our friends and families and parishioners have come to us with tears in their eyes and “Why?” on their lips.
When we want most to offer reassurance, the silence at the end of a question mark doesn’t feel like peace. It feels like “Why have you forgotten about me?” and “Where is your God?” It is almost unbearable to stand in silence with “Where are you, God?” and “Why did this happen?”
But the Psalmist leaves questions hanging, unanswered, even asking them over and over again in these chapters. These Psalms are punctuated, literally and literarily, by questions. And God never comes back with, “I know you can handle this!” or “If you had more faith you wouldn’t need to ask!” God never even says, “Because…”
There are no good–and certainly no feel-good–answers to “When?” and “Where?” and “Why?” But there is a response that we can give in a life full of questions. It is an offering we can lift up–just as we are invited to respond every time we receive the gift of the Word.
It is an answer, a response, an offering: it is hope. As often as the questions are asked, the Psalmist offers it up over and over again:
“Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”
Hope stands with us in the tear-full silences behind our hardest questions. Hope doesn’t brush off our “Why?” and it doesn’t try to step in for the absent “Because…” Hope simply lets us begin to glimpse light through our tears, so we can make our way–however slowly–toward joy. Hope draws us forward by inches, by heartbeats, toward the streams that quench our thirst and restore our energy. Hope recalls the songs we once sang, and hope readies the instruments for us until we are ready to play them again.