given on Sunday, January 12, 2014
Scriptural reference: Psalm 74 from the NLT
Over the past few weeks, the news keeps reporting all the ups and downs with the weather. The year-end reviews listed all the statics for crime and the political shenanigans that occurred in 2013. There is so much going on in our own lives, and then the news shows all that is going on in everybody else’s’ lives.
All too often one of those guttural screams tries to bubble up from the pit of the stomach. Try as you might, you cannot always contain it. The screams, or maybe the tears, just start and turning them off is difficult. There is not an easy answer, there is no simple explanation “why bad things happen to good people”, it just does.
Reading the psalms typically provides comfort, joy, model prayers, and hymns of praise. Yet, reading Psalm 74 shows us that even the Israelites, chosen to serve as the priests for all people, struggled to understand what was happening in their world.
Sadly, while reading through this psalm, the parallels to all the news and circumstances of our 21st century world become all too evident. The psalm lists them:
- v.3—Come and visit the site of disaster . . .
- v. 4—. . . brawling and scrawling graffiti.
- v. 5—set fire to the porch; axes swinging. . .
- v. 7—burned your holy place to the ground, violated the place of worship.
- v. 9—. . . barbarians blaspheme, enemies curse. . .
- v. 18—. . . all the enemy taunts, each idiot desecration
- v. 19—Don’t throw your lambs to the wolves; after all we’ve been through, don’t forget us.
These excerpts illustrate the frustrations the Israelites were feeling. They thought God would protect them from all these horrific experiences, but He did not.
Including Psalm 74 in a book of worship or a hymnal just does not make sense. Why would a prayer full of complaints and supplications concerning the damages the Israelites endured, be included in the Jewish prayer book?
No one can answer that question with complete authority because that decision was made thousands of years ago. In fact, the projected date for this particular psalm’s creation is believed to be around 586 BC. Even the writer of the psalm is uncertain but is identified as Asaph or one of his descendants. Apparently the Israelites were suffering one bad thing after another. They were frustrated and upset.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? As Christians, the very principles and practices that have historically been part of our beliefs, our worship, and even our missions are under attack. Granted, our individual churches in this community have not had physical harm, but the culture certainly has attacked it!
Can we yell at God? Surely we can because He is our father and who better to talk to? He knows our frustrations, our pain, and our experiences. God listens to all our complaints, which often outnumber our thanks; but He never deserts us. We can yell, scream, cry, or rant, and God will listen. God listens, and then we must listen.
Even as the psalmist knew God listened to the list all the terrible things happening to the Jewish people; we can be confident that God listens to us, too. The concern is whether or not we stop to listen to God. Can we hear God or wait for God to take care of us? Or, do we yell at God again?
Looking back to Psalm 74, the conversation with God is not filled with complaining or with the list of damages the people experienced. In the midst of the negatives is the logic: If God can make the world, then he can save it.
Sometimes the generations since Jesus’ birth distance us from God. The faithful continue to worship, they continue to call on God, and they even continue to serve one another in Christian love. Yet, the bad never seems to end. The natural disasters hit, people hurt people, and country battles another country. The generations continue, the tests to one’s faith continue, and today’s Christians ask the same questions as the Jewish did during the centuries before Christ.
We, just like the psalmist, yell at God. We do not understand what is happening in our world. So much bad seems to be happening to those who remain faithful. How come we simply yell at God and then expect Him to fix everything in an instant?
The answer, I believe, is no different than the Jewish faithful thought prior to Jesus’ birth. I believe that we can list all the ills in the world that we see, but our prayer needs to ask God’s guidance. We need to listen carefully to His whispers for what we must do in order to prevent evil from taking control.
This evil exists in all forms. The addictions people have whether to alcohol, to food, to tanning, or to exercise all create a shallow sense of happiness; but when Christ is the center of one’s life, the sense of happiness explodes each time we see Christ in the day’s events or in the world around us whether through nature, through the skies, through evening stars, through the smiles of our children, or the first steps taken towards accepting God.
God’s power is infinite. The psalmist lists so much that God can do:
- v.13—With one blow you split the sea in two, . . .
- v.15—With your finger you opened up springs and creeks, and dried up the wild floodwaters.
- v. 16—. . . you put stars and sun in place.
- v. 17—You laid out the four corners of the earth, shaped the seasons of summer and winter.
This same list can be used today, but it may be a list that is only a faint memory for today’s Christians. Yet, the list we might use can include a slightly different twist:
- News story from Indiana—an over-the-road trucker had stopped at a truck stop to rest during the Winter Storm Ion. When he awoke, he found the brakes frozen; so he got out and under the truck’s axle to knock them free with a hammer. The truck shifted, pinned him and unable to even reach the phone in his pocket. After hours and hearing the phone ring repeatedly, the phone vibrated out of his pocket and fell in a spot where his only free hand could reach it. He testified a Greater Power had to control the fall of the phone.
- News story from Afghanistan—a high school student saw the suicide bomber coming towards his school. Instead of running away, he ran at the bomber blowing up with him rather than letting his classmates become victims.
Sadly the stories do not always have happy endings. Sometimes the God-event is not noticed or does not make the evening news. And frequently the stories that do cross the TV screens have tragic endings. The yelling at God continues despite our understanding of His power.
The responsibility falls on us. We must share God’s story and explain how His power is always present. With His grace, we manage the challenges confronting humans whether personally, in the community or in the global community. We have a responsibility to listen to God, to find our own gifts and use them.
Yell if you must. It is okay to cry out to God, but once you yell, stop and listen. Remember His power and His promises. He waited 2,000+ years before selecting the tribes of Israel to serve as priests to the world. He waited for another 2,000+ years before he sent Jesus to make changes.
In our perspective, that timeframe makes us uncomfortable. It is already 2,000+ years since Jesus was sent to earth, is our yelling at God going to do anything? While we wait, we had better get busy. Each one of us has a voice; use it. We all have hands to do God’s work; do the work. We all receive grace; offer grace, too.
If we want to yell, then let’s yell at the evil forces that challenge us. Let us tell them not to tempt us. Let us tell others not to give in to evil. We serve as barriers protecting each other from evil, from the challenges to our faith.
For those who begin to crumble from the challenges, let us move into action just like we saw so many do after the devastating tornadoes, hurricanes, and winter storms. We can do it.
Try reading the last three verses of the psalm with a slight twist:
On your feet, My Children—
stand up for Me!
Do you hear what they’re saying about Me,
all the vile obscenities?
Don’t tune out the malicious filth,
the brawling invective that never lets up.
Maybe God is yelling at us and we have not heard Him. It has been safe to yell at God because He never stops loving us. Do we love Him enough to accept His yelling at us to get busy and do what is right?
God is doing everything He can to wait for us to live our faith openly and to fight for God rather than let Him be legislated away.
No one has all the answers of what to do, but when we feel like yelling at God, maybe we need to take a very close look at ourselves. Are we listening? Are we using all the gifts God gave us to love one another? Are we making sure that our faith is a priority not only in our homes, but also in our jobs and in our communities? Are we doing what God is yelling at us to do?
Dear Almighty and Omnipotent God,
The world challenges us daily, and we are fed up.
We keep waiting for you to do something,
but we see no changes.
We remember the stories of the Bible:
shows of strength, splitting the sea,
unexplained pregnancies, and more.
Yet today nature throws its fury at us
destroying people and places.
Repeatedly we learn of greed and vanity
as though they are measures of success.
Remember us, oh God.
We are the ones who continue
to live our faith openly.
Remember us, Heavenly Father.
We are the ones who pray together
for the well-being of others.
Remember us, Teacher.
We are the ones repeating Your story
so others may know Your grace.
May we keep our minds open to hear
what You tell us to do.
May we listen carefully to Your whisper
and know that you are God. –Amen