A Father’s Day Psalm of Lament

img_0265

Let’s face it, for so many, Father’s Day can be a painful reminder of the worst moments of our lives. For some it is a reminder of what they’ve lost. For others it can be a reminder of what they never had. While still more have only been given abuse and violence from their fathers. Father remains as a loaded, painful word but one that God chooses to call himself. How do we reconcile that? The authors of the Biblical psalms processed heavy, complicated emotions through their poetry. What follows is an attempt to process Father’s Day through the form of a modern day psalm of lament.

Expect a parallel and thematic structure of a psalm without the poetic verse structure of a PhD in Literature. It begins with the question of how a God that is supposed to be all good and all powerful can ask us to call him a word that to so many means loss, evil, and pain. It ends with a reminder that the only thing that defeats death is life and even if our fathers never gave us anything good we have the opportunity to bring goodness to the world. Even in the darkest family situations, hope can survive in the next generation. We have been adopted as children of God. Given absolute love and compassion by the creator of all things. In light of the gospel, my hope is that the connotation of that word can be transformed.

Oh Lord, how can I possibly call you father

when all that word does is remind me of loss?

You are the Father of Fathers but

when I hear that word I think of the day mine left.

How can I feel close to you remembering what I’ve lost

feeling again and again that day when he died?

It seemed on that day as if separation was king

dealing decrees of disease and death into my life.

My father was a good, good man

so how could you let him die?

You claim to be a good, good God

but now that word, “father”, means death.

Still others have lost more than me

never having a moment with their fathers worth grieving.

I can’t imagine what that word brings to mind

for those who never had someone to fill it’s image.

Even worse I can’t imagine what that word feels like

for those who had a father that only made them feel pain.

Our hearts ache 

for those for whom that word means verbal, violent, violating abuse.

This cannot be the way things are supposed to be.

What then?

If there is a good connotation of that word

what is it?

Lord you are patient and kind and loving,

is that what “father” is?

You are gentle and gracious and powerful,

is that what my father left behind?

You, oh Lord, are the father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

and, at times, they were not faithful.

Your people, Lord, again and again and again

create space for sin to remain in the world.

Yet the hope of Abraham was Isaac

and the hope of Isaac was Jacob.

The death and decay of sin that defines our fathers’ day

gives way to new hope always present in new generations.

Our father’s cycles and chains

can always be broken.

While death has struck it’s only blow

I still live and will live.

Not only that but those words that “father” should mean

love, patience, kindness still live.

It is because of who my father was that in me

gentleness, graciousness, and power still live.

I live therefore my father lives

because I am my father’s greatest hope.

In the same way our Heavenly Father is proved good

because he gave the world his Son.

Death, decay, violence, and violation

do not get to have the last word.

We were born of our fathers

to ensure that what struck them sees no victory.

Death will always win

if we do not give life.

Hope will always end with us

unless we pass it on.

Even if to me that word is marked by death

it is also marked by love.

While for so many of us that word carries a sting

by its nature it also carries new life.

Lord I can say you are good

because death is not the end.

Lord I can call you father

because I am your child.

img_0267

Me and my dad.

All the Feels – The Psalms

I’m a person of strong emotions. Our culture largely values rationalism and logic, and it’s easy for me to think that I need to ignore or overcome my emotions. The Psalms present a different narrative. This book of the Bible is a compilation of prayers, and was in many ways the prayer book for the Jewish people. In it is expressed every human emotion and type of experience. The psalms give us permission to be human and to experience deep emotions, and they offer a guide for how to bring these emotions to God.

happy_musical_notes

Psalms of Praise – Believe the hype

When we think about praising God, we often presume an element of happiness and joy. We praise God in response to something good that happened or that we observe in the world. This is not a bad thing and we should certainly offer songs of praise and gratitude when we are reminded of God’s goodness and power to work in our lives. At the same time, it is also deeply necessary to praise God when we are in the midst of darkness and struggle. When we are most overwhelmed by fear and despair, we need to remind ourselves and others of what is true: The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord (Ps. 33:5). The Psalms employ many metaphors and beautiful language to describe God’s traits and the way He interacts with the world. But keep in mind that the psalmist is not merely speaking in hyperbole to puff God up. When we extol the goodness of the Lord, we state the facts about the truth of the universe.

From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
 from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth – Psalm 33:13-14

This means that to praise God while in the throes of trouble does not mean putting on a happy face to pretend everything is great. It is to silence lies of hopelessness through telling the truth about the God we serve. To praise God is to offer gratitude and joy, and also to reorder our focus and understanding of how the world works.

Cursing

Psalms of Cursing – You mad, bro?

The imprecatory psalms can be very difficult to process and often make us uncomfortable with the harshness of their language. Should we really be praying for our enemy’s children to wander as homeless orphans (Ps. 109)? Aren’t we supposed to forgive and turn the other cheek? First of all, the psalms of cursing show us that we should be upset when evil seems to have the upper hand and that we are allowed to desire the punishment of unrighteousness and injustice. We are required to be honest about what is wrong in our world and to name those things before God. Secondly, we are assured that God hears the cries of His children. These psalms show us that even if no one knows the ways that we have been injured by others, God knows and we expect Him to care. Imagine how comforting these psalms could be to a young girl kidnapped by Boko Haram, or to brothers and sisters constantly threatened by ISIS, or to a child who is being abused and is afraid to tell anyone. God sees every wound inflicted within His creation, and even if human advocates don’t arise, we know that God will bring justice in the end.

Also, take time to turn the psalm on yourself. In our thoughtlessness and selfishness we have all acted as an enemy towards someone else. It could be through obvious offenses that cause us guilt and regret, or cursing at a driver that aggravated you on the highway. On a regular basis we malign and injure other image-bearers. We have also all been enemies of God.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – Colossians 1:21-22

Because we all fit the category of “enemy”, Christ turned the cursing psalms on Himself to bear the curse that we deserve. He stood condemned in our place and drank the Cup of Wrath that we couldn’t have survived. Next time you feel uncomfortable with one of these psalms, think of Jesus enduring that punishment so that you might be spared. And give thanks.

Bottles of Tears

Psalms of lament – You can cry if you want to

A seemingly obvious but important truth of the psalms of lament is that they assume the followers of God will suffer. Sorrow is not inherently a sign of failure or punishment, but an expected part of life. They again show us that when we cry out to God in our distress, we can expect Him to hear and to care.

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book? – Psalm 56:8

Our tears are precious to God. He doesn’t just tell us to buck up and get over it, but keeps close record of our weeping. These psalms also show us that something happens when we are honest about our sorrow before God. Depression and anxiety can be very isolating and cause us to withdraw. But God invites us to come forward and bring our thoughts and feelings into the light of His presence. The psalms never describe a tidy resolution to the psalmist’s distress (“I told God and then I got everything I ever wanted”), but they always shift in tone by the end. Not because the situation has changed, but because our hearts are changed when we know we have been heard. It may take days, months, years for us to know that we have been changed. It took me two years of crying out to God during a season of grief and darkness before my heart was healed. But it was this continual process of honesty and rawness in prayer that moved me down the road of healing. Silence, isolation, or a mask of happiness will not bring renewal to a hurting heart. Full and authentic expression of sorrow in the presence of Christ is what will bring the balm of healing and restoration.

If you would like to study the psalms in more depth, please feel free to utilize my three-part Bible study series. My thoughts in this post and in our study guides have been significantly influenced by Ellen Davis’s book Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, a work which I highly recommend.

Getting Involved with God