“Prayer is often thought of as begging God for gifts or confessing to God that which we ourselves have already decided upon to be sin. These concepts of prayer, however valid they may be, tend to seal off its function as a means of insight or inner revelation. … However, when we evaluate clearly the movements of the spirit in the prayers of the Bible, we see that the persons who prayed them expressed their truest and frankest feelings to God in prayer. … With the modern loss of this kind of frankness in prayer illustrated in the Bible, people have tended to look upon their prayers as a means of communication between God and their ideal selves, and not their real selves. … Particularly meaningful to parishioners is the privilege of honest expression in prayer when they are involved in acute frustration, incessant pain, and approaching death.”
-Wayne Oates, “The Bible in Pastoral Care” (1953), pp. 113-117
The Bible is full of pastoral or practical theology. The Bible is is not a work of systematic theology, biblical theology, philosophical theology, or historical theology. But many parts of it involve Practical Theology… including whole books of the Bible (Ecclesiastes, and Habakkuk).
The Psalmist is taking God’s revelation, history, and personal experience and reflecting on them and integrating them to gain personal theological insight. While we may call this a Psalm or a Song, it is more like a corporate prayer.
Reflection on History
1 We have heard it with our ears, O God;
our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
2 With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
and made our ancestors flourish.
3 It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.
This is very God centered. By God’s hand, they drove out nations, crushed people… made the Israelites to flourish. This is because of God’s love.
4 You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
6 I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
7 but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
8 In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.
As a response, the Israelites claim God’s past care, and they push back enemies, trample foes. And like the past, they recognize it is God’s work, not their own. Because of this, they boast in the Lord and praise His name forever.
NEW PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
9 But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
10 You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.
13 You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.
15 I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
16 at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.
Something has changed. Before, it was victory after victory. Success after success. In verse 8, the people praise God and boast in the Lord. It is easy to do so, when things are going well. But it is not so easy when comes defeat after defeat. Failure after failure.
17 All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.
18 Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
19 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21 would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
22 Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
This is a part that the Psalmist struggles with. The Psalmist says… the defeat after defeat is NOT due to sin, idolatry, or rejection of God. Israel has been faithful… but God has turned His back on us. Theological reflection is so important when things are going bad… often more so than when things are going well. Because when things are going well… going as expected we think it is because we do the right things and we think the right things. But when things start going wrong… it is a time for reflection and prayer… a time to learn and to grow.
The Psalmist, after reflecting, comes to action. The action is to call out to God.
23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
25 We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.
You may notice something here… the mystery remains unsolved. God appears to have rejected us. We have done nothing wrong. Why? No answer answer is give… Now you and I might easily come up with an answer.
- We could be like Job’s friends and pull some Prosperity Theology. We could say… “Oh sure, you THINK that you have not sinned… but obviously you have. That is why God has turned His back on you.”
- Or one could pull some from an Existential Theology. Life and growth comes from enduring suffering. “God is teaching humility. Victory and success can lead to pride. You need humility.” Of course it is easy to tell someone else that they need humility. It is not so easy to be the one who is humbled.
- Or one could draw from a more Missional Theology. “According to the Abrahamic Covenant, You called to be a blessing to all nations… not a conquerer of all nations.”
The Psalmist does not give an answer… He cries out to God for help. He believes that God will ultimately vindicate and rescue… because God is a God of unfailing love.
But as far as reasons go, He leaves the reader or the singer to ponder the question. That is not such a bad idea. When Typhoon Yolanda came along, there were so-called prophets around the world who were stating that it was God’s punishment for sins… for not being an effective witness to the world… or for government corruption… or for homosexuality… or whatever. But these so-called prophets don’t know anything more than we do. I believe they just like to talk more.
The Psalmist, I believe, took the sound theological response. He left the WHY for each to ponder… but then responded as in a real way. The song/prayer was an honest cry out to God from a position of frustration, desperation, and pain— emotional honest built on a foundation of faith and hope.
Quoting Morgan Freeman (portraying God) in Bruce Almighty– “Now THAT’S a prayer!”