God and Grief Meet
in True Worship
Unfortunately God and grief are not words that are used very close together in some forms of spirituality. I remember being in a church service where the worship leader asked the congregation to forget about all the "stuff of the week" and enter into worship of God. It seemed as if he thought that we could just come to God and grief would just fly away. I wanted to remind him that the Christian faith believes in a God who comes to humanity in their "stuff of the week" condition, not their dressed up Sunday best condition.
True worship does not come by denying our pain and asserting that God is worthy of worship. True worship comes only as we are real and authentic with God about our struggles, doubts, and pain and then make a choice to worship. We can enter into real worship when we acknowledge life is what it is and in spite of that reality we choose to glorify God. In his book A Sacred Sorrow Michael Card (p.21) says "lament is one of the most direct paths to true praise" and it is not only a "path to worship, but the path of worship."
The lack of lament in the believer's life not only leaves deep unhealed wounds, but it causes us to have shallow relationships with God. Michael Card reflects on the fact that for much of Israel's history worship had involved the wilderness. In Egypt Pharaoh was instructed to let God's people go, so that they could worship in the wilderness. (Exodus 7:16) Through the Old Testament Israel looks back time and again to their time in the wilderness as the time that God demonstrated worthiness of worship to them. The wilderness experience defined Israel and their relationship to their God. Perhaps this is why the laments became powerful paths of worship—Israel spent so much time in wilderness experiences that if they were going to worship, it had to come out of these experiences. But true worship cannot come out of denying the pain of the wilderness, it can only come by living in authentic relationship with God, acknowledging our pain and then choosing to love and trust in spite of the pain.
These Psalms of Lament are the expression of a person fully engaged with God in life as it is. There is a brutal honesty in these psalms. Denial and lament can never co-exist. David is often referred to as a man after God’s own heart. His life contained many, many wilderness experiences, and out of those experiences he wrote many psalms of lament. It would seem that Christians are missing out on a deeper intimacy with God because they have ignored the power of the lament to bring greater inner healing and deeper purification, which comes out of authentic relating to God.
My own journey led through many valleys and questions about God. Although the journey is never easy, I was glad to find God and grief mingling so closely in the psalms of lament--and really through much of scripture. I just never had need to notice it before.
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