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Reform Magazine | October 18, 2017

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Chapter and Verse: Psalm 13: 1

susan_durberApparently, February is the most depressing month and the advice is not to take any major decisions. On the bright side, it’s the shortest month. Christians have been famously mocked for always looking on the bright side, so we have to work hard in February. But perhaps, instead of struggling to be chirpy, we would do better to be honest about how it is to be human and turn to some of the texts of our faith which talk about suffering in ways that are more honest.

All of us know what it means to be hit by life’s pain. And it’s helpful to know that there are scriptures there ready to give voice to what we’re going through; texts that we can pick up when we can barely put two words together for ourselves. And some people know what it means to feel sad or empty for no reason they can put a finger on, but the pain is just as real. At times like these, words that echo what you’re feeling are worth more than gold. There are times when cheerful texts about rejoicing are a slap around the head, and when all you want is there to be someone who knows what it’s like to be where you are. And at these moments, the Bible really is holy, because it doesn’t try to deny what you’re feeling or just tell you to buck up – it speaks the truth. The Bible is for every day, not just for Christmas, not even just for Sunday. It’s for a rainy Monday in February too.

Take Psalm 13. There might be scholars who say it’s about the plight of the people of Israel at one moment in history, but for my money it gives voice to what many of us know now. Here’s someone who dares to have a real moan at God. The “how long?” is a real complaint of neglect. “Where are you God?” God is called back to be God, because it feels as though God has left post. In the midst of any pain you can only ask: “How long?” and you want, and snatch for, any relief you can find. The wise and kind will tell you that it takes time; that there is no way around the pain, that the only way through it is through it. And you cannot believe that they are right, for how could this agony be borne for so long? Read this psalm at a time of sorrow and you will discover that you are not alone.

At the end of the psalm, the psalmist writes with a different voice:

But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

In Rejoice and Sing we have a setting of Psalm 13 that leaves out this final assuring verse. It sets the psalm to a blues tune and allows the words to speak of unresolved suffering. There are times when this is the only kind of song we can sing, times when we need a bigger breathing space than the space between verses before we can hear words of consolation. A part of being human from which we run most readily is the experience of suffering. Not only because it hurts, but also because we are embarrassed by what it does to us and by what it might lead us to say about God. Thank God we have in the Psalms scriptures that do not turn from suffering, but which allow us to speak, in holy words, of the most bitter of our human experiences.

Psalm 13 offers us words which all of us, at some time, will find our own. And we will not be unusual in that. We will be human. And it might be February.

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This article was published in the February 2013 edition of  Reform.

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