From Sally Jackson
Reading Psalm 107, I, like the psalmist, acknowledge the goodness of proclaiming how the Lord rescues us from different distresses, whether the consequence of our own sin, or whether from the dangers of the sin-fallen world around us. Yes, the Lord is good and can quench my thirst, and calm the storm, and free me from my shackles, and restore my health. And in so doing He lifts my spirits and allows me to actually say so – that His steadfast love endures forever.
But then I find myself reading Psalm 108, a psalm of David. He in verse 1 sings to the Lord that his heart will be steadfast to his God, and yes, with the faithfulness of God having been shown to David time and time and through battle after battle, he has reason to believe in the Lord’s goodness and to forever exalt God over the heavens. But in this reading what stuck with me was how this man calls himself steadfast to the Lord and then goes on to make a complaint to the Lord—possibly even a complaint against the Lord. As David prepares to face neighboring Edom, he tells God that it looks like God has rejected his people, that the Lord is not going out with his people into battle, that they are alone, unprepared, weak, worthless. While I think I know in my head that a person can petition God, make pleas and lay his heart bare before the Lord –even in complaint and accusation—without compromising his faith in God’s goodness, the paradox leaves me confused. How can a stubborn and accusatory heart yet remain faithful?
Fast forward to the book of John and we find Martha doing something just like David: complaining to the resurrected Jesus that if He had been there, Lazarus would not have died. And yet, she also declares unhesitatingly that God will give his children whatever they ask. Assuming that Martha stilled herself for a moment and was alongside Lazarus’s bedside with her sister Mary, praying for Lazarus’s life to be spared, then Martha does not believe her prayer went unanswered. Not absolutely, anyway. No, what she believes, foremost of all things, is in the real bodily resurrection of the dead, of which her brother will take part; and in Jesus as the Christ (who would show Himself to be the first raised of all dead and the one who is able to fulfill all prayers and petitions because His final answer is the best answer: Life known fully and eternally through and with Him).
Martha knows, then, that her brother needn’t have died just then – that Jesus as God could have written that part differently. And in greeting Jesus, Martha lets Jesus know she is not pleased with how things went down. But then she admits that, ultimately, Resurrection and Life are the final and best answers to her prayer, ones that show that the Lord was listening all along. She, like David, can say she is grieved and worried with God’s short-term answer to her prayers, and yet can remain hopeful and trusting and steadfast all at the same time.
For me, I want David and Martha to be reminders that I can be frustrated, grieved, disappointed, confused, angry, or however-I-feel before the Lord because He has appeared to be acting in ways I wouldn’t choose (or because He seems absent altogether). These feelings don’t mean I don’t want to be steadfast or that I am choosing to walk away. I can feel all these things, lay my real heart bare before the Lord, be mad at how life in a broken world is scary and sad, and then open my eyes to the real appearing of the risen Lord, the one who is answering all of my prayers in the simplest and most beautiful way I often forget to imagine: Life.
I live in Cambridge, am energized by our church community, and generally crave deep conversations with folks one-on-one. Until we get coffee, boil me down by personality assessments: enFJ (Myers-Briggs); 3, wing 2 (Enneagram); and Positivity/Empathy/Woo/Developer/Responsibility (Strengthsfinders). Let me know if you want to be my dancing partner, because Nora and Nathan Bryant have made it their mission to teach me Argentine Tango.