13
Jan
10

Authentic Prayer

I think the Psalms are tremendously underrated in LDS thought and use.  I’m going to guess that to at least some extent it’s a reaction against the way others use them, that is, we downplay them to establish our uniqueness.  In any case, I think this is unfortunate because a sub-set of the psalms, the lamentations, provide a certain permission for some very authentic prayer.

Consider Psalm 44.  The first nine verses recount what God has done for the Israelite ancestors.  Then in v. 5 the Psalmist affirms his positive relationship with God:

2 O God, we have heard with our own ears; our ancestors have told us The deeds you did in their days, with your own hand in days of old:  3 You rooted out nations to plant them, crushed peoples to make room for them.  4 Not with their own swords did they conquer the land, nor did their own arms bring victory; It was your right hand, your own arm, the light of your face for you favored them.  5 You are my king and my God, who bestows victories on Jacob.  6 Through you we batter our foes; through your name, trample our adversaries.  7 Not in my bow do I trust, nor does my sword bring me victory.  8 You have brought us victory over our enemies, shamed those who hate us.  9 In God we have boasted all the day long; your name we will praise forever. Selah

At this point, it sounds like a hymn of praise!  But now look what happens…I think that the way the Psalmist describes his community’s suffering very deliberately undermines the entire concept of faith as trust in God:

10 But now you have rejected and disgraced us; you do not march out with our armies.  11 You make us retreat before the foe; those who hate us plunder us at will.  12 You hand us over like sheep to be slaughtered, scatter us among the nations.  13 You sell your people for nothing; you make no profit from their sale.  14 You make us the reproach of our neighbors, the mockery and scorn of those around us.  15 You make us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us.  16 All day long my disgrace is before me; shame has covered my face  17 At the sound of those who taunt and revile, at the sight of the spiteful enemy.  18 All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, nor been disloyal to your covenant.  19 Our hearts have not turned back, nor have our steps strayed from your path.  20 Yet you have left us crushed, desolate in a place of jackals; you have covered us with darkness.

Do you think that God’s rejection might have been caused by some sin on the part of the community?  Not so, says the Psalmist.  He and his community are innocent, according to him, and God is quite capable of rectifying the situation if he wished to.

21 If we had forgotten the name of our God, stretched out our hands to another god,  22 Would not God have discovered this, God who knows the secrets of the heart?  23 For you we are slain all the day long, considered only as sheep to be slaughtered.  24 Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Rise up! Do not reject us forever!  25 Why do you hide your face; why forget our pain and misery?  26 We are bowed down to the ground; our bodies are pressed to the earth.  27 Rise up, help us! Redeem us as your love demands.

Wow!

Rise up! Redeem us!  Those are imperatives, right there, addressed to God and they’re not an instance of polite importuning, either.   What’s the logic behind the imperatives?  Well, God’s love, which is his preeminent quality, demands that he act, according to the Psalmist.

And the most surprising thing?   The Psalmist did not get turned into a toad for saying it!

My point is this: Although our social conventions require that we downplay, dismiss, or deny our pain, God does not.  In prayer, we are free to be candid how we feel about the situations in which we find ourselves.  We do not need to try to convince God that our pain doesn’t exist, that it doesn’t matter, or that we are happy to find ourselves in distress.  We don’t even have to assume that the situation is somehow fair, in a fashion that we don’t understand!  Instead, we are free to really, really, unburden ourselves and to talk through the situation.  There’s no telling how God is going to react, but there’s also no denying that the freedom to “cast your burden on the Lord” without reservation can be both liberating and comforting.

And all this comes from…the Psalms, a book to which we devote maybe one lesson.  Hm.

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