February 29, 2012

Feb. 29: Praise in the midst of complaint

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By Paul Keim, professor of Bible and religion
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 22:23-31 (NRSV)
Scroll down for complete Scripture.
DEVOTIONAL:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s the opening cry of the Psalm from which our text is taken. A classic lament, and our text a familiar vow of praise of the sort found not infrequently in lamentation literature. It is the hymn that Jesus begins to recite from the cross, branding that anguished cry onto our collective consciousness. Perhaps he would have continued reciting through the praise portion – had he lived.

Why praise in the midst of scripted complaint, choreographed despair, ritualized hopelessness? For the ancient worshipper a “sacrifice of praise” was part of the lamenter’s strategy to incline the ear of one’s deity, to call attention to one’s case, to evoke sympathy for one’s suffering. To provoke perchance a positive response, in hopes that the deity might (also) be assuaged by the sweet aroma of adoration.

Hymnody at the service of special pleading does not lack authenticity or sincerity. The power of this ancient genre is its embrace of praise within the context of complaint. Or even more to the point, the validation of complaint within the context of worship. Those suffering in our midst should be empowered to make us squirm during sharing time. We should feel their sense of abandonment like a shroud of existential angst. If all we hear are the victories, then we’re not really listening. Only then can their songs of praise, intoned from the abyss, ennoble human pathos.

The bottom has fallen out, catastrophe looms, the world no longer makes sense – how can I keep from singing?

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 22:23-31 (NRSV)
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. 28 For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. 29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, 31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

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Comments (11)

  1. As usual, this devotional reminds me of a song. This one is a song that I learned in youth group, and the lyrics are as follows:

    I will praise You in this storm. I will lift my hands, for You are who You are, no matter where I am. And every tear I’ve cried You hold in Your hand. You never left my side, and though my heart is torn, I will praise You in the storm.

    Elizabeth S.O. February 29, 2012 |
  2. Today’s words help. I found out a few days ago that my grown daughter has advanced melanoma. She has 3 children ages 5 and younger. Her life is very, very precarious. I pray I’ll always be able to praise God from my depths even as I “complain” from my depths that this wonderful young mother may not be able to survive this cancer. Grace, love, anguish, terror. What a mix. Scripture names it all.

    Heather February 29, 2012 |
  3. Thank you Paul, for this insight that you have given and the reminder about who God is through the good times and the bad, which can be summed up in the last line that you wrote: “The bottom has fallen out, catastrophe looms, the world no longer makes sense – how can I keep from singing?” What a great reminder and exhortation.

    Leanna Teodosio February 29, 2012 |
  4. Thank you, Professor Keim. I have loved this Psalm since I was introduced to its meaning by a wonderful professor 45 yearsd ago. Whatever my circumstance and complaint, I remember that God is still due praise and thanksgiving for the gifts I do have.

    Len Gustafson February 29, 2012 |
  5. Yes.
    Yes.
    Yes.

    Joan February 29, 2012 |
  6. AMEN & AMEN! What wonderful words of affermation. Thank you.

    Lorene February 29, 2012 |
  7. “Those suffering in our midst should be empowered to make us squirm during sharing time.”
    How beautiful! How profound! How appropriate! Bless you, my brother, for sharing this and the rest of your wonderful devotional.

    Dickie Siler February 29, 2012 |
  8. And this is good news indeed!

    Sue February 29, 2012 |
  9. Another reason for we who are New Testament/Covenant focused Christians to embrace all our faith heritage has to offer in the scriptures.

    Gary Olsen-Hasek February 29, 2012 |
  10. Heather (comment 2), I am sorry to hear about your daughter. I may not know you, but I will keep both of you in my prayers.

    Elizabeth S.O. February 29, 2012 |
  11. Thank you, Paul. You speak like your namesake, the original Paul. We shall sing because the Lord is a co-sufferer,and we are in “no strange land.”
    Joy be yours during this season of Lent.
    Mervyn Carapiet

    Mervyn Carapiet March 1, 2012 |