Sunday, April 18, 2010

Psalm 88

O Lord, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.

It has taken me over 2 years, but I think I may finally be where I need to be. The first 2 years, I tried so hard to make sense of why God could let Midi and Nathan die. I tried in some ways to fast forward to redemption and create a life that would reconcile me with the "why" question. I was knocked flat on my back when God revealed how much this proactive approach to redemption I was taking demonstrates my distrust in him. I didn't think God would do a damn thing so I took it upon myself to try to create a new life. Not that there was no genuine growth in my relationship with him and no genuine healing the first 2 years. But I didn't have the spiritual muscles to really wrestle with him. My understanding of him was of a passive God. It was all up to me to move forward and make the right choices and declarations. Now, I am pulling back - pulling back from this faulty paradigm. Now, I don't want to try to do a darn thing, except sit in my misery and wait for God to save me; to cry out to him; to question him; to not ignore the darkness.

As I read from a chapter entitled, "Waiting for the Morning During the Long Night of Weeping," written by Dustin Shramek for a collection of essays called Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, I compiled some quotes that resonated with me.

"...let us not so quickly go from the affliction to the deliverance and thus minimize the pain in between. God's promise of deliverance does not mean that he will immediately deliver us. For many, deliverance only comes with death."

"'You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep' (Ps 88.6). There are times when we feel so alone and cut off from everyone, even God, that we seem to be in the depths of the pit. No one else can possibly understand our pain, and there is no glimmer of hope. We can't see even a shred of light - surely the pit must be hundreds of miles deep. The darkness is so deep it feels heavy all around as though the darkness itself could be measured by a scale."

"Yet even in the midst of such great pain, he was not negligent in prayer. 'Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you' (Ps 88.9). Every day he spread out his hands and called upon God because he expected God to answer. But he didn't receive an answer. His hands remained empty day after day. This was when the pain was at its deepest. Many of us can endure the worst kinds of suffering if God himself is filling our hands (and hearts) with comfort. But when we cry out for comfort and receive nothing, we are undone. Surely the Sovereign One who has ultimately brought about this suffering could at least comfort me in the midst of it, couldn't he? When this doesn't happen the suffering is magnified beyond our imaginings."

"Of course we know intellectually that God does not forget to be gracious and that he will indeed by compassionate. We know that he hasn't rejected us and that his steadfast love is forever. But there are times when our pain is so deep that truths in our mind just can't seem to penetrate the darkness that surrounds our hearts."

"This text (Psalm 88) is in the Bible so that when suffering and pain come and we are between the affliction and the triumph in the midst of the questions, pain, and clouds of doubt, we may see that what we are feeling is normal. It has all been felt before, and all the questions have been asked before. We are not the first. We are not alone. And we are not in danger of losing our faith (at least not yet)."

"Why is the depth of Christ's pain significant for us? Because 'we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin' (Heb 4.15). In the midst of our pain we may feel alone and believe that no one has hurt as badly as we hurt. But it isn't true. Jesus Christ has felt such pain; indeed, he has felt pain that would have destroyed us. He is able to sympathize. 'Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need' (Heb 4.16)."

"Could we abandon the truth and turn to some other religion? There is no hope for us there, for then we would have to save ourselves. Could we become atheists? There is no hope for us there, for then life would be futile. Could we turn to materialism? There is no hope for us there, for material things can't bring back our son, nor can they keep us from suffering in the future. There is no hope anywhere else because God alone is God and he alone is holy. So in our suffering we cling to God in his holiness. And quite honestly, there are times when we cling to him simply because we see that there isn't anything else to hold on to. But I think this is okay. God wants us to see that there isn't anything else to cling to."

I read this chapter as Lucas and I were flying back home after a week at Walt Disney World. It was such a bittersweet time. For Lucas, it was pure fun and hopefully something he remembers with fondness throughout his life. Lucas can experience sweet without the bitter. But for me it was wonderful and painful at the same time. Before Midi died, we talked about taking our precious boys to Disney World some day. So experiencing the beauty of it without her and without Nathan was unimaginably painful. We had many such dreams, including some day (maybe a 10th anniversary trip?) going to Europe together. Now, I see a movie about the beauty of France or I think about a trip to Germany to visit relatives and I cannot imagine those experiences without her. I am saddened as I realize yet again that everything good that I experience, like Disney World or today's Lakers playoff game, will always be bittersweet. Will it always be this way? Will anything good simply be just sweet without the bitter?


Dave said...

Thank you for sharing your heart with us, brother, even when it is as difficult as things have been of late. I appreciate that you shared the reality of what you are experiencing. This is a true and important word.

Reading what you wrote and the quotes you shared, for example...

"...let us not so quickly go from the affliction to the deliverance and thus minimize the pain in between. God's promise of deliverance does not mean that he will immediately deliver us. For many, deliverance only comes with death"

...resonated for me with Hebrews 11:35– 38. Prior to "some were tortured" in verse 35, the author is describing all the exploits and triumphs and victories that people accomplished / experienced through faith, but then the author points out that faith does not always result in God’s deliverance or some great "victory," at least not this side of the grave. Some were tortured, others suffered, were afflicted, were mistreated, wandered about destitute on the lonely and desolate places of the earth. The author says the world was not worthy of such as these. Their faith in the resurrection and God’s eternal reward sustained them in hope and caused them to persevere in confidence in God. But in the meantime their suffering did not end, they were not "delivered" until they died. Clearly that is the far more challenging context in which to live by faith, than the ones who by faith receive promises and see God do all kinds of great and glorious things. Maybe that’s why the phrase, “of whom the world was not worthy” is inserted into the text amidst the description of those who suffered all their lives and were not delivered before they died, yet they still hoped in God despite all the temptation to lose heart.

None of us who have not lost a spouse or a child can know exactly what you are going through, Mark. You are walking that road of those verses in Hebrews in a way that none of us have experienced before. As much as I grieve with you and for you, I am grateful that even so, you are giving us an example of holding onto God and to hope in the better world to come.

I am also thinking about Heb. 11:10 – “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations,” and Heb. 11:14-16, “people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland… they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” I thought about how you have said before that the accident has resulted in your desire and longing for the kingdom being greater than ever. Even if you do not experience deliverance from your pain prior to the kingdom, but I am sure that God has a great reward for you there, for your life of persevering faith, through all the pain of this life, and that God is not ashamed to be called your God, and that you are one for whom he is preparing that eternal city.

We are praying for you and care about you, Mark. Love, Dave

Elijah's Mom said...

Mark, thanks for sharing your heart. As you know, I have been getting really excited at the idea of taking Elijah to Disneyland because I can't wait to see his excitement. Paul and I don't even like Disneyland, but we're excited about this trip because we're anticipating the sweet moments with our son. So, I can kind of imagine how bitter the bitterness might feel even while the sweetness is there too. I wish Midi and Nathan were here to share the sweet moments with you and Lucas.... I look forward to seeing you guys in the summer.

B.A.K. said...

Mark, thanks for sharing these thoughts you are reading through. They really resonate with me right now. I have been thinking a lot about how our God suffers with us, and how profound that is. None of us wants to suffer, and we do everything to run from it - even with the best of intentions: to celebrate the departed's life, to skip to the redemption part as you said... But the suffering of loss is real, and God will pause and be with us in that dark place even when no one else is able.
Love to you and Lucas and hope to see you soon, T