29 April 2010

Psalm 89

"How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself for ever?" (v.46)


Psalm 89 begins as a psalm of praise which sees the greatness of God in creation. It affirms God's support for those "who walk ... in the light of your countenance", and then it speaks of David and how special this king was to God. The tone of the psalm then shifts and speaks of God rejecting this chosen king, renouncing the Covenant with Israel, and allowing its cities to be destroyed and plundered. This suggests that the psalm may have been written when the Israelites were exiled to Babylon during the 6th century BC.

As well as lamenting the devastation of his country the psalmist is also feeling sorry for himself. He feels God is hiding from him and that in his misery he has come close to death.

During the psalm the author meanders from one thought to another, and from one emotion to another. While it is difficult to say whether this is a psalm of praise or of lament, the mixture of emotions seems an accurate reflection of our own prayers. It is too easy, when life is hard, to begin our prayers with thanksgiving because this is felt to be the right way to begin. Then, as our thoughts turn to what life is throwing at us, it can be easy for us to wallow in what is wrong - as the psalmist does. The positive things that are said at the beginning get lost because, apart from a brief, final, positive sentence, the psalm ends on a negative note.

Controversial words of advice once given said - "Don't rehearse your troubles before God. God knows what they are and doesn't need to be told. Also, all you do is remind yourself of the predicament that you are in. Instead practise the presence of God and learn to draw on the peace of the love of God and you will rise from prayer refreshed rather than still carrying the problems with you."

To Ponder

How helpful do you find the psalms that express anger and frustration to God?

How would you respond to the advice not to rehearse your problems before God, but instead practise the presence of God?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Christine Jones

Christine Jones, an ordained Methodist minister, is currently director of the Urban Theology Unit in Sheffield, a centre which emphasises the importance of bringing theology and contemporary culture together. At UTU she is responsible for preordination training, teaching on the Foundation Degree, MA and supervising MPhil PhD students.