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God’s Presence in Suffering

God’s Presence in Suffering

By Natasha Layman 

The call came on a rainy, chilly afternoon when I was preparing for oral surgery the following day. A woman who had mothered me as a young adult and continued to love me generously and steadfastly collapsed suddenly and was on life support. I took a deep breath and turned my attention to Jesus, placing myself in his loving presence. Another phone call came a few hours later. She had passed away. In this loss, I experienced as I never have before the safe, strong, and deep tender love of God as he held me close and invited me to run to him and feel. God invites us to experience his presence tenderly and powerfully in our suffering, grief, and loss. 

This was not my first experience losing a loved one. My dad passed away in my mid-twenties after a short-lived battle with cancer. I was there when he died, feeling the last pulse that went through his body. My relationship with my dad was tenuous at best, and I had no framework for how to sit with a mixed bag of emotions and grieve the losses. I detached and dissociated because that is what I knew, and it felt safer than sitting in the grief. I frequently asked God, “Why?” Why did my dad die? Why did we have such a distant and rocky relationship? I felt alone, angry, and bitter toward God as I tried to make sense of my suffering. A friend graciously recommended a counselor who listened and taught me how to engage with my feelings, my history with my dad, and all the wounds that were part of that story. But something was missing in this process. 

Fast forward a decade and a half to the moment I learned of my friend’s death. How was this time so different? How did I experience God’s presence and comfort in my suffering now? Because of my relationship with my dad, I’d envisioned God as distant, uninviting, and rather cold. I invite you into my past year’s journey, as God has rooted out my flawed views of him to form a deeper, more beautiful relationship between us.  

About a year ago, after years of longing to experience God, and not simply more head knowledge or good theology, I started leaning into habits to create space to meet God. I began sitting on my couch each morning for 5–10 minutes and imagining God sitting next to me, his face lighting up with joy at me. This was hard work—I was easily distracted, my mind prone to wandering. Yet God met me there, gently bringing me back to his presence when I wandered. He began to lay a foundation of joy, delight, and trust. In my daily prayer time, I experienced God’s presence. God fully knows me, my limitations, my wounds, and wholly loves me. In this time, God brought healing to deep wounds as well as freedom, laying the groundwork for deeper trust in him. 

As I prayed during the weeks leading up to my friend’s death, God brought me from a beautiful image in prayer of a safe, secure garden, walking with him, resting with him, and knowing his loving arms that held me, to an image of Jesus inviting me to follow him into the wilderness. The wilderness? When this shift happened I didn’t know what the wilderness held, but I knew God was trustworthy, and I could follow him. Days before my friend died, while in prayer, God gave me an image. I was scared and weeping on the side of a trail, with Jesus sitting next to me, arms around me, comforting me. He comforted me with his presence, not words. This image was at the forefront of my mind the day the call came that my friend had collapsed. God’s immediate invitation was to come, lament, and grieve with him

My journey of grief and lament began immediately. I wept tears that felt like they would never stop. The following day, I sat with God in prayer through the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. The verse that the Holy Spirit highlighted for me was verse 4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus was gently telling me that he didn’t say we will not mourn, but we will be comforted. I wept more, with the image of Jesus weeping with me. I grieved that there would be no more hugs from my friend, no more sitting with her and hearing her stories. Most of the time I spent lamenting and grieving, there weren’t words, simply God’s presence; the intimacy of being fully loved by the God who knew my human experiences and limitations and loved me just the same. Jesus didn’t distance himself from me but held me in my woundedness with his scarred hands. The same hands that knew the pain of death were tending me, holding me with gentleness. 

God invited me to sit and lament with him several times in the week and a half following my friend’s death. I knew healing, wholeness, and knowing Jesus more deeply would only flow from continuing to come when he invited me, even when it was hard. In a podcast I heard author Tish Harrison Warren describe a concept from St. Thomas Aquinas as an “arduous good”. The word arduous means requiring great exertion; laborious; difficult. Lament is an arduous good. Lament requires that we be present to our pain and be present to God. Like so much else that God calls us to, lament is a process

My grief over my friend’s death will not disappear this side of eternity. Every room of my house has reminders, large or small, of her influence on my life. Yet, as Curt Thompson so wisely said during his time at Christ Community, “We discover joy finds us in suffering because community is sitting with us in the midst of it.” That journey starts by being present with the community of the Holy Trinity in my suffering and in Christ’s body, the Church. 

As I grieve, I have the hope that Jesus will return and set to right all that sin has broken. But there is a more pressing hope for this life right now. Our loving Lord Jesus, whose face lights up with joy and delight at us, is also sitting next to us, arms around us, holding us in all the storms of our suffering, grief, and loss. He invites us to grieve with him, just as he did with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazarus—death is not how it ought to be. He will not leave us in our suffering because he is “Love Loving,” in the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He is inviting us to come to him and abide, even in our sorrows. 

Before my friend died, as I was processing the news of her collapse, I was interrupted by an image. My friend was running with joy and delight into the arms of her Savior. She no longer bore the frailties of her body in this life but was whole, healed, and at peace. The wounded hands of Jesus held her as a beloved daughter. We are his beloved, and he is inviting you and me to experience his presence in our suffering. 

 

Additional Resource:

Comer, John Mark, host. “Luminary Interview: Tish Harrison Warren.:” The Rule of Life Podcast, Sabbath season, episode 5, Practicing the Way, 2022. 

Comer, John Mark. Practicing the Way. Waterbrook, 2024, 

 

Grumble Grumble

Grumble Grumble

“That’s not fair.” 

“But I should get to go.” 

“How come she gets to do that but I don’t?”

I hear statements like these from my kids frequently. I often get to play referee between two siblings both demanding that their way or desire is better. Or sometimes the complaint is directed at me and what I am, or am not, letting them do. It can be exhausting.

But when I think about it, these statements are not just ones I hear from my children. I hear them from adults around me. I hear it in movies, from celebrities, and even sometimes from believers I look up to.

And then, when I look deeper, I realize that I, too, am guilty of complaining. Maybe not always out loud, but definitely in my heart and mind. I also still have some growing up to do in the area of grumbling.  

 

Learning from the Past

In a women’s Bible study I studied salvation stories from the Old Testament. It was so good! The story that stood out to me the most is the serpent on the pole from Numbers 21. Are you familiar with this one? It’s not a typical Old Testament story that we learned in Sunday School, but it holds a very important lesson for us today.

The Israelites are in their last years of wilderness wandering before entering the Promised Land. They often grumbled about God and Moses through these 40 years. But amazingly, God always answered and provided for their needs. He gave them water from a rock and provided manna and quail. He led them through the desert. 

But once again, the people are unhappy. They are hot. They are tired. They are impatient. They are thirsty and probably want more to eat than manna. Instead of crying out to God and asking him to provide, what do they do? They grumble and complain. 

The Israelites accuse God and Moses of leading them to the desert to die. They also complain about the food that’s provided. As a parent, I know it does not feel good when my kids complain about the food I’ve made for them. 

God has been so patient with his people who frequently grumbled about his plans. This time, however, he sends poisonous snakes among the people and many die. Whoa! 

Why did he do this? Why did it have to be snakes? There are many amazing theological possibilities for this specific question of “why snakes” and I’d encourage you to dig into it if you’re curious…but I want to consider what could have been a better response for the Israelites.

 

An Alternative to Grumbling

Were the Israelites wrong to be grumpy and impatient? I think I would have felt very similar if I’d been living in tents as a nomad in the wilderness for 40 years eating the same thing every day. The emotions they were feeling were not sin. They sinned by choosing to grumble. So what could have been a better way for them to respond?

When we are sad, impatient, frustrated with circumstances, lonely, or scared, the Bible teaches us that we can go to the Lord with lament. We do not need to grumble or complain, we can take our worries and cares to the One who cares the most and lay it all out before him.

What is the difference between lamenting and grumbling? That is the question I’ve been wrestling with since studying this story from Numbers 21. 

Grumbling is talking to others about your disappointment with God. Lament is talking with God about your disappointment. 

Grumbling goes to others. Lament goes to God.

Grumbling is talking about God. Lament is talking to God.

So many times in the psalms we read the words “How long, Oh Lord?” The authors are crying out to God for relief. For help and rescue from whatever circumstances they were in. If we take our sadness and impatience to the Lord and cry out to him, we are inviting him into the situation. We are opening our hearts to him to work in us. We are crying out to the only One who can help us and change us. 

 

Not Always the Answer We Want

Lamenting is not a magical prayer that makes God give us what we want. The Israelites ended up confessing their sin in Numbers 21, and pleaded for the snakes to be taken away. But God did not take the snakes away. Instead he provided a way for the people to be healed if they chose to look up at a brass snake mounted on a pole. God did not answer their prayers like they asked, but he did give them a way out. A way to be saved.

When we spend time in lament, we are inviting God in and crying out to him for help. We are choosing to look to Jesus, who was mounted up on a cross and died for us. He knows pain and sorrow. He wants to walk alongside us in our grief and disappointment. When we look up to him, he offers us rescue. It might not be in the way we expect, but he is faithful to be with us in whatever comes.

 

Praising God Even in Times of Lament 

At the end of Lamentations 3, after many verses of lament and crying out to God, the author says Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! I say, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in him.”

What if the Israelites had chosen to lament instead of grumble? They could have said “How long, oh Lord, will we wander in this wilderness? How long, oh Lord, will we have only manna to eat? Lord deliver us to the promised land you promised to us. You are faithful, God Almighty, and you will be faithful to your promises.” Even when we are in despair, and crying out to God, we can end our laments by claiming the faithfulness of God. 

1 Corinthians 10 encourages us to learn from the sin of the grumbling Israelites. It says, Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer. These things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.

Let’s be a people who learn from the Israelites and not grumble and test Christ. Let’s take our grief to the Lord in prayers of lament and with open hands. He is faithful and hears our prayers. He is worthy of our trust. He is worthy of it all.

One New Family?

One New Family?

I have been blessed with an incredible family. Even in my extended family, as weird as we sometimes are and with all of our faults, I am so deeply grateful. Yet I know that is not everyone’s experience. Some of us come from deeply fractured families or find ourselves in very disappointing or difficult situations, and we have that insatiable craving for more. 

One of the most beautiful things about “the mystery of Christ” referred to in Ephesians, is that because of the gospel we are given a whole new family. God is our Father. Jesus is our Brother. The Holy Spirit is our ever present Comforter. And we even have this with one another! We are surrounded by spiritual mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and even sons and daughters. We are given a new family!

But sometimes that family is also really messy. As we walk through a study in Ephesians, we will continue to come upon that phrase “the mystery of Christ.” In chapter 3 Paul makes it clear what this is referring to: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6). The Jewish Messiah, Jesus, died for all the nations of the earth to make them a singularly united, at-peace family in him (see Isaiah 2:2-4 and 25:6-9). 

Think about this for a moment. Jesus the Messiah is ethnically a Middle Eastern Jew, but he is not the savior of Jewish people only. He is the savior of the whole world, Gentiles included, and thus all peoples of all ethnic backgrounds who follow Christ are already included in the “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) by faith in him. This is certainly good news, especially since the vast majority of you who are reading this are Gentile believers in Jesus the Jewish Messiah. In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul elucidates this “one new man” (or family) component of the gospel message.

This talk of inclusion and different ethnic backgrounds raises some questions in our current cultural climate. How are we to think about ethnic inclusion in the church today? More specifically, what does this mean for this church, here in Kansas City? We hear a lot of talk about “diversity,” “inclusion,” “racism,” “social justice,” and the like. At the very least all this talk highlights a need for informed, thoughtful conversation as we seek to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). How do we live into this reality that we are truly family with one another?

There is much that could and should be said about these matters, far beyond the scope of what is possible here. We will circle back to this conversation in a variety of spaces in the future, but for now we encourage engagement with several resources to help us think soberly, widely, and biblically about these topics.

We do not necessarily agree with everything written or said, either in the linked resource itself or by the authors and speakers in their other publications. However, we do believe them to be helpful starting points for further conversation. They are by no means exhaustive, but they will help us begin a deeper interaction with the questions we are already wrestling with. 

Read 
Listen
Watch

However you interact with these resources, the most vital response is to pray. This is the essential first step, and an essential practice to carry through every step thereafter. One significant way to pray in the midst of this conversation is through lament, which is prayer crying out to God on behalf of the injustice we see in the world. 

So let us lament. And let us be led in lament by God himself in his Word spoken through David  in Psalm 55, which is fulfilled in Christ crucified and risen for all peoples to become one in him. Let us pray this lament in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who bear the brunt of injustice in this country and around the world:

 

Psalm 55

1   Give ear to my prayer, O God,

and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!

2 Attend to me, and answer me;

I am restless in my complaint and I moan,

3 because of the noise of the enemy,

because of the oppression of the wicked.

For they drop trouble upon me,

and in anger they bear a grudge against me.

 

4   My heart is in anguish within me;

the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

5 Fear and trembling come upon me,

and horror overwhelms me.

6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest;

7 yes, I would wander far away;

I would lodge in the wilderness; 

8 I would hurry to find a shelter

from the raging wind and tempest.”

 

9   Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;

for I see violence and strife in the city.

10 Day and night they go around it

on its walls,

and iniquity and trouble are within it;

11 ruin is in its midst;

oppression and fraud

do not depart from its marketplace.

 

12   For it is not an enemy who taunts me—

then I could bear it;

it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—

then I could hide from him.

13 But it is you, a man, my equal,

my companion, my familiar friend.

14 We used to take sweet counsel together;

within God’s house we walked in the throng.

15 Let death steal over them;

let them go down to Sheol alive;

for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.

 

16   But I call to God,

and the LORD will save me.

17 Evening and morning and at noon

I utter my complaint and moan,

and he hears my voice.

18 He redeems my soul in safety

from the battle that I wage,

for many are arrayed against me.

19 God will give ear and humble them,

he who is enthroned from of old, 

because they do not change

and do not fear God.

 

20   My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;

he violated his covenant.

21 His speech was smooth as butter,

yet war was in his heart;

his words were softer than oil,

yet they were drawn swords.

 

22   Cast your burden on the LORD,

and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

the righteous to be moved.

 

23   But you, O God, will cast them down

into the pit of destruction;

men of blood and treachery

shall not live out half their days.

But I will trust in you.

 

Like Those Who Dream

Like Those Who Dream

Psalm 126

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
     we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
     and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
     “The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
     we are glad.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
     like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
     shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
     bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
     bringing his sheaves with him. 

I’m standing outside the church. It’s Sunday morning. Early. Kinda cold. My hands are in my pockets, shoulders tight, feet moving. I should have brought a jacket. Our congregation is beginning to arrive for church, and I like to be outside whenever I can to greet them. The first dozen or so I’ve seen many times during the pandemic, so they know the routine and head on in. 

And then I see them. Two men, a father and son, whom I haven’t seen since March. For health reasons they were unable to return. But now, with a vaccine, they could. If you know me at all, you know I’m not one for sentimentality. But I kid you not, seeing them brought a warmth, an energy, a joy I had not felt in a long time. I ran up to them too fast. They were alarmed. But when we recognized each other, we beamed. I didn’t know it, but it was like a part of me, a part of my family, had returned, and I felt closer to “whole” again. I know. It’s melodramatic. But it’s true. 

It felt like Psalm 126, a psalm of “ascent” used by faithful pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem to worship. The whole point of the psalm is to remember. You can see it in the first line: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion…” The poet is looking back on something God did. Remember when God did that? How that felt? 

That little private moment in the parking lot, I felt like I wasn’t just remembering what God had done. I was experiencing it. I felt like someone in a dream. It was surreal, like God was putting His Temple, His people, back together, one brick at a time, after a long exile in Babylon. During this long pandemic, it felt like a miracle. 

The Lord has done great things for us…
I say all this to remind myself, and maybe you, that God is working. He is restoring our fortunes; He is re-building Christ Community. Even if you are not able to return on Sundays yet (which I completely understand), my hope is that you can still experience the church family coming together as I have.These small miracles can happen at the park, in the driveway, and over the phone. 

Those who sow in tears
I say all this to remind myself, and maybe you, that God never wastes a tear. God makes many promises about our suffering in the Scriptures. But this one, in Psalm 126, is the one I forget the most. God is with us in suffering, God protects us in suffering, of course. But He never wastes our suffering either. In fact, if I’m reading this right, there’s something in particular about our tears that soak the soil for the joy God brings next, more potently than we can imagine. This has always been true of God’s economy, and it still is. 

We have sown many tears this year. Tears of fear, grief, loss, loneliness, and anxiety. Personally, I feel like I have done more funerals this year than I ever have as a pastor. Every one of them hurt, and COVID made each one of them worse. They caused tears. God has planted every one. He has planted yours, too. 

I honestly don’t know what God is going to do next, what this harvest will bring, other than this: it will be joy. Because with God, joy is always the last chapter. Keep sowing, dear church. And I can’t wait to see you again. 

Broken Bones Rejoice

Art from this exhibit at the Four Chapter Gallery was featured in The Beauty of Weakness – Lent Devotional.


Through these paintings [SAMPLE ARTWORK BELOW], I wrestled with the complex reality of pain and suffering. Aesthetically, I was particularly inspired by the Japanese practice of Kintsugi and the philosophy of Wabi-sabi. Kintsugi is a practice whereby a broken piece of pottery is repaired using powdered precious metal and adhesive. The cracks on the piece are entirely visible in their newly gilded form, and the piece actually becomes more valuable than before it was broken. Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic philosophy which values the natural, the temporal, and the ephemeral over the permanent and perfect.

I sought to create personal artifacts of brokenness, and the only thing that could make me brave enough to do so was to filter it through my understanding of why pain exists. I have come to realize that, personally, suffering only becomes unbearable to face if I feel that there can be no deeper meaning beyond it.

Talking about suffering is difficult because it is at once intimate and universal. No matter what you say about it, it lacks some facet or depth of human experience, because it is an individual soul that suffers. As Nicholas Wolterstorff says in his profoundly moving Lament for a Son, “The dynamics of each person’s sorrow must be allowed to work themselves out without judgement. I may find it strange that you should be tearful today but dry-eyed yesterday when my tears were yesterday. But my sorrow is not your sorrow.” I have felt that profound loneliness in my own suffering. In those moments, it feels like no one else could possibly understand what I am going through, and there is some truth to that. No human being can possibly understand another soul’s suffering completely.

I come to the Passion of Jesus Christ here because in Christ my loneliness in my suffering is diminished. Christ’s suffering through the passion corresponds in some aspect to practically any kind of human suffering imaginable. The cross acts as a prism in this way, through which all suffering is split into its many facets. I find that there is no facet he cannot enter, not just because he knows me completely but also because of the life he lived and the death he died. Christ endured a kind of suffering that is the worst I can imagine: he was fully alone, he had no consolation, and God was silent. There was no one to defend him; he could not save himself without compromising those he loved most. He endured agonizing physical pain. And worse than that, many theologians describe the spiritual agony into which Christ descended as one that felt infinite and unending.

More important to me than the eradication of loneliness is the eradication of all suffering itself, which is the whole point of the horrific death of Jesus. Because of Christ’s work on the cross, my journey through the valley of death has an end. The painful process has context and meaning that it didn’t have before. I have often found myself wanting to escape from or ignore my pain in an attempt to speed up my healing process so I can go back to the way I was before, with no scar to remind me of the pain, in an imagined state of perfection. This project has helped me to begin to understand suffering as a process, and to see scarring as a mark of the healing. It is important to note that Christ, the God-man, whose death reworked the very fabric of the cosmos, forever changing the material of the universe, chose to keep his scars after his resurrection.


ABOUT THE PROCESS

Each painting is 64” tall, which is within the range of probable heights for an average male in Palestine in the first century; in other words, it is representative of the height of Jesus of Nazareth. Each panel is the same size; and it is my hope that in this work you will sense a sort of unified bodily presence.

The exhibit is broken into three parts. Part one serves as a narrative introduction to the reality of suffering, the second part explores the particular suffering of Christ as seen in his Passion, and the third part imagines result of that Passion.

In the second part, each work was created with an underpainting. This underpainting often felt finished to me in a sense in that it had a unique beauty that satisfied me. Then I inflicted upon the work an act that was like or representative of what Jesus might have experienced. For example, the painting dealing with the scourging of Christ was itself scourged with a cat-o’-nine tails whip. In another example, the painting meant to express a shadow of the moment of agony when Christ screamed his question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was actually removed from the stretcher bars and torn apart.

In the spirit of kintsugi, I have worked some measure of repair on each of the paintings, though not with the intent that they look the same way they did beforehand. Also in harmony with the philosophy of Wabi-sabi and the messiness of the process of suffering, you will find many imperfections in these paintings.  Though they have been glued, sewn, woven, and gilded, I didn’t make an attempt to hide the wounds, but instead chose to see them as a part of the painting’s history, a reminder of the breaking. I let them keep their scars, and this repetitive act helped to instill in me the idea that it is okay for me to keep my own scars as a reminder of my brokenness and the hands that are healing me.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR / ARTIST

Kelly Kruse uses her work to explore the painful, beautiful experience of human longing and suffering. She developed a visual devotional practice as a response to her battle with depression, through which she wrestles with beauty, longing, and faith. Kruse describes her work as contemporary illumination. Like the medieval monks who perfected the art of illuminated manuscripts, she seeks to awake in the viewer a sense of spiritual contemplation. Her first exposure to the idea of illumination came when she studied Medieval and Renaissance music in Italy. Her background in classical music and opera puts her in a unique position to explore the intersection between scripture, poetry, musical works, and the visual arts. Kelly received her undergraduate degree in voice performance from Iowa State University and her masters in voice performance from Indiana University, where she was a student of Costanza Cuccaro. In addition to her visual art practice, she is a member of the music faculty at Metropolitan Community College-Blue River. She also maintains an active private studio and is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Kelly is a Daler-Rowney sponsored artist.

kellykrusecreative.com

Instagram: @kellykrusecreative


Praying the Blues – In the Dwelling (Part 3)

[PART 3 OF 3]

When the shrapnel of a broken world knocks the wind out of us, and we feel like we can barely breathe—let alone pray—how do we keep praying? When life transitions to a minor key, we take a note from the Psalms once again. We need to pray the blues. And there is one lament that spans two psalms—Psalm 42 and 43—that is just the one to help us figure it out.

THE DWELLING

The psalmist walked us through the drought. He dove deep into the depths. But now, suddenly, as he comes to a close in his prayer, He looks forward to a time where he will once again know the dwelling of God.

In ancient Israel, place—the land—was everything. The temple in Jerusalem, the holy hill of Zion, was a patch where heaven overlapped with earth—God’s dwelling place with man. This was the psalmist’s home, and being far from the temple meant less of God’s felt presence.

So where is the psalmist anyway? In 42:6, he remembers God from the mountain range of Hermon in Jordan, not Israel. From Mount Mizar, which means “little hill,” because every hill other than the one on which God resides feels insignificant. In 42:4, he’s consumed with the thoughts of when he had felt God’s presence in the temple with God’s people singing His praises.

But then there’s a turn. Still, far from the temple, in 43:3, he begins to imagine the day coming where God will indeed send out His light to guide his steps back to the dwelling. Up to the altar, where God, his very joy, resides!

What happened? How’d he go from a disheartening longing for the past to a hopeful longing for the future? In lament, there’s one moment in this prayer that covers Psalms 42 and 43—said three times (42:5, 42:11, and 43:8)—where the psalmist tells his depressed and anxious soul: Be quiet and listen. A moment where all the worried thoughts yelling “where are you?!” and frantic feelings screaming “how could you?” step away from the mic. And the psalmist steps up to sing a better word to himself.

Why are you downcast? What’s really messing with my heart here? As we’ve said time and again, what’s at the center here for the psalmist, and really at the center of every one of our laments, is feeling like God is far from us. And maybe most hurtful of all, that God is unconcerned for us.

Then, he sits his own soul down and says – that’s enough. God hasn’t forgotten. God is trustworthy. Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.

He’s not home. He longs for home because God is there in a way He isn’t anywhere else, and yet he cheers on his own soul to hope in God’s promise anchored in his steadfast love to bring him home someday.

This isn’t our home, which is why we pray the blues. And I would go so far as to say that we should feel some discontent—a dissatisfaction with this world—on a daily basis. If you’ve never had an occasion to sing the blues, you have really low standards. You can’t honestly be satisfied with this. We live in a world of racism, poverty, sin, injustice, and disease, and the best of efforts haven’t made all that much progress. But more than anything, we live in a broken and fallen world where I call out to God and at times He feels unbearably absent. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and so we pray the blues.

But at this point in history, we remember and so sing to ourselves, not about a temple in Jerusalem, but when—as the Gospel-writer John says in John 1—God took on flesh and literally “tabernacled among us”! The most holy hill is where the Son of God, Jesus Christ, climbed the mount of crucifixion. No longer do we look to an altar. As the author of Hebrews waxes so eloquently, in Jesus’ single sacrifice on the cross, all sin has been paid for once and for all. The curtain separating God and man in the temple has been torn in two.

And while in a broken world and on a rugged cross, Jesus cried out the lament, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The very words of the psalms. He became rejected that we might be accepted. He left His home in heaven that He might make a way for us, defeating every bit of sin and shame and brokenness that will keep me from coming home. And three days later, He rose again, and 40 days later ascended to go and prepare a place for His people.

A place that was revealed to John in the book of Revelation. Listen as he recounts the vision of our new and eternal home:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

Don’t you long for this? Doesn’t this make you pray the blues as you wait?

One of my favorite stories of B.B. King is of a concert in 2008. B.B. King was 82 at the time. The place was packed, and finally as the concert came to an end around 2am, after the crowds had cleared and only about 30 or so folks who wanted autographs remained, King looked around at his band and with a nod broke into When the Saints Go Marching In, vamping on the tune for some 20 minutes.

This I think is the true conclusion of praying the blues, a longing for what is to come. My favorite part in that song is when we sing:

Some say this world of trouble
Is the only one we need
But I’m waiting for that morning
When the new world is revealed

The Christian life is a long longing in the same direction, and so when we lament, we pour out our souls to our God because we aren’t home yet. But someday we will be. And until that day, we pray the blues to God and say to ourselves:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43:5 ESV)

Come, Lord Jesus…