It’s easy to lose sight of an Infinite God. When God is everywhere, how can you find Him? If He already knows where you have been, what is there to tell Him?
In the midst of great tragedy, like the Haiti earthquake, it is easy to feel like God has abandoned us. It is easy to say, “Any prayer to God would be a waste of time.”
Our conversations with God can get lame— fast. “That thing you already know about, but have chosen not to fix, can you please fix it?” Lame, boring—I am not interested in that dialogue.
But what if our dialogue with God could be more? What if it meant more?
In the Psalms there is record after record of people screaming at God. That’s right, I said screaming. It’s in the Bible. And here’s the kicker, it’s not called “wrong.” Instead, it’s embraced and enforced—yelling at God was part of being an ancient Israelite.
Imagine a world where the gods were perceived as distant beings. Imagine a place where gods came to earth either to fulfill the lusts of the culture with sex and wine, or to slaughter people. Imagine: the gods warring everywhere—every nation stuck in the middle of it. Sounded fun at first; not so much now.
Within this framework of distant, screwed-up gods, the author of Psalm 88 suggests an entirely different view of the Israelite God, Yahweh. The view of the Psalmist goes against everything his fellow ancients believed.
He screams: “O Yahweh, 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” (Psa 88:1–3 ESV adapted).
In case you didn’t figure it out from context: you don’t want to be near Sheol. It’s dark and gloomy—not necessarily that place we call hell, but pretty close. It’s nasty. So when your life draws near it, you are in bad shape.
The Israelite God, Yahweh, is personal—down to earth. This God can be screamed at; cried out to. Amazingly, the author is not afraid to do these things. Likewise, the community is not afraid to incorporate these things into the book of Psalms, which was their book of prayer and worship.
But the author doesn’t stop there: “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” (Psa 88:6–7 ESV).
Given, our author is using hyperbole to make a point; like Jonah does when he cries out from the belly of the great fish (Jonah 2). But there is something to be said for these nasty feelings towards God being in a book of prayer.
God doesn’t shy away from pain. He embraces it. He is not the cause of it, like the “wrath” of God seems to indicate in this Psalm (no doubt that is hyperbole), but it sure seems like He should do something about it. In a mixed up, crazy world full of pain and turmoil, where is God? Where is God in the tragedy in Haiti?
This hearkens back to our first question: Why pray? God is everywhere; He already knows. The answer Psalm 88 presents is surprisingly simple: When we pray, we are telling God where we are at. Ultimately, this also tells us where we are at.
Even a prayer that ends with dramatic and terrifying words says something about our relationship with God: “Terrors … and 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 friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness” (Psa 88:15–18 ESV). Who is the prayer addressed to? God.
Even a theologically-incorrect cry to God like this one acknowledges Him. We pray because we desperately need to acknowledge God in the midst of pain and suffering—in everything.
So let’s pray for the hurting for two reasons: (1) God can act; He can make a difference in the horrible situation in Haiti; and (2) Acknowledging God, even when we are angry, helps put us where we should be: helping those in pain. God puts us in our place—indirectly and directly.
How would your life change if you just prayed honestly—holding back no punches? Would it help you better understand (and see) the Infinite God in everything?