The Songs of Israel---Longing for God
Text: Psalm 42
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
June 26, 2011
One of my favorite parts of the Bible are the Psalms. The Psalms are usually called the Songs of Israel because they were, at their heart, songs or hymns about people’s relationship with God.
Psalms are not, like so much of the Bible, stories or things happening to people or explicit teachings about God. Psalms are more a reflection of where people were at in their journeys in their relationships with God. Years ago they were all attributed to David, but in reality they were songs that evolved over a period of time.
What they are, at best, is a reflection of the journey of God’s people in relationship to God. Sometimes they reflect thoughts about God, most often they reflect feelings about God. Often they refer to feelings of joy or sorrow, or total frustration. They can be songs of joy or songs of comfort, or songs of despair----and this is what makes the Psalms so real. They reflect the real thoughts and real feelings of God’s people.
I knew a minister colleague years ago who, whenever you asked him how he was, would say, “Wonderful! This is the day the Lord has made!” He was either the most upbeat person of all time, or he, somehow refused to admit how he felt or was unwilling to admit how he felt. So I stopped asking him how he felt. The same goes for people who, when you ask them how they are, give you a 30 minute lecture on how miserable their life is. For some people, perhaps this is true, but most of the time when the response is a 30 minute lecture on how miserable life is most of it is just whining. I stop asking them how they are as well.
The Psalms reflect real thoughts and real feelings of real people. Today I’m starting a sermon series on several Psalms.
We begin with Psalm 42. It begins very poetically with the image of a dear longing for flowing water as the writer’s soul longs for God. Behind the poetry, however, there is the Psalm composer who feels very remote and isolated from God. Three times the writer asks the question, “Why are you cast down my soul?” Within the heart of the Psalmist there is pain and the pain is a sense of bewilderment asking the question: Where is God?
The author of the Psalm was probably in exile and he was recalling the days of life when life was good in Jerusalem. Now, he is far from the good life in Jerusalem and surrounded by people who hold him captive and mock him about his God. “If your God is so good, how did you end up as our captive?” The question would be asked mockingly, and the writer of the Psalm himself wonders, where is God?
There are several things to be observed in this Psalm.
The first is this. God allows us, even invites us, to be real.
First, this Psalms is a Psalm of lament. It is bemoaning what seems to be the absence of God in the Psalmist’s life. He laments and asks over and over again, where is God. He even says that the people who are tormenting him are asking him the same question. Where is your God? If your God is so great, how come we, with our allegedly inferior gods, have defeated you and that you are our captive???
Of all the things the Bible tells us one of the things the Bible never once tells us is that life is fair. In the Book of Ecclesiastes the writer tells us that the rain falls on the just and the unjustice; on the righteous and the sinners.
We live in a world where God’s will does not always prevail. We all pray for God’s will, but so often God’s will does not take place. The wrong people get jobs, some people do not get better, and injustice triumphs over justice.
In World War II, Arthur Harris, often known by his nickname, “Bomber” Harris, was the head of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command. He hated Hitler and Nazi Germany with a passion and was determined to bomb, and fire bomb, Germany into a pile of rubble. In 1945 he ordered what most historians would one day call a ‘raid too far,’ when he ordered the fire bombing of the German city of Dresden. Dresden had no military value. Germany was defeated and the city of Dresden was clogged with refugees attempting to flee the oncoming Russian Army. The city was destroyed and over 50,000 German civilians were burned to death in the bombing.
During this one man asked the question, “Why is God doing this to us?” Another man responded, “God is not doing this to us. People make wars.”
God allows us to lament because there are times when it is all we can do. We are allowed to be real with God.
Secondly, there are times when long for God because God seems to have been taken away from us by others. Often, there is injustice in the world and that injustice is blamed on God.
Most people are very aware that in the years leading up to the American Civil War there was a great deal of political tension within the United States. The country was being torn apart over the ethical issue of slavery. Was it legal for human beings to actually own other human beings? Did people of color have less rights than white people?
That debate took place in churches. Tragically people used the Bible as a battering stick against people of color. They found several passages and narrowly defined them to argue that slavery was God’s will, while overlooking the rest of the Bible that spoke of equality and justice for all people. It was tragic. Christians argued for inequality. Churches were split over it and many people abandoned churches where equality and justice were preached.
In the early part of the 20th century the debate lined up in exactly the same way. This time it was over the issue of the rights of women.
They found several passages and narrowly defined them to argue that misogyny was God’s will, while overlooking the rest of the Bible that spoke of equality and justice for all people. It was tragic. Christians argued for inequality. Churches were split over it and many people abandoned churches where equality and justice were preached.
And now, the debated has lined up in exactly the same way over the rights of all people to marry and have civil rights as couples. The legalization of marriage for all people that was passed in New York on Friday night was preached against, again, by many churches.
They found several passages and narrowly defined them to argue that being anti gay was God’s will, while overlooking the rest of the Bible that spoke of equality and justice for all people. It is tragic. Christians argue for inequality. Churches have split over it and many people abandoned churches where equality and justice were preached.
So there is a longing for God by people who are oppressed because, like the writer of the Psalm, they believe they have been abandoned by God.
The reality is that they are not abandoned by God; they have been abandoned by many of God’s people and it is tragic.
The last thing is this. When we lament, at its core, a lament is a cry of hope.
The Psalm is a calling out for God. It is a longing for God. It is a yearning for God. It is based on the premise and the heart felt belief that God is there, listening and caring. It is a recognition that there is a God who longs for us just as much as we long for God.
The last verse of the Psalm is this:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
It is a song, a reminder that our hope is always in God; and God will be our help.