Saturday, July 15, 2017

Prayer unto death

Ps 88 is the bleakest lament in the Psalter. It's striking that this lament is even included in the Psalter. The Psalter is fearless. 

5 like one set loose among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.

To be forgotten even by God is the ultimate abandonment. 

8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
    you have made me a horror to them.

Apparently, his fair-weather friends thought he was bad luck. If they hung around him, they might fall under the same judgment. So they stayed away from the blast zone. 

I am shut in so that I cannot escape;

Life can be a blessing or a curse. For the psalmist, there's no let up. No respite. It's one long lonely day after another. It's an ordeal to get through each day, and he must start all over the next day. His torment is never-ending. Another grim day awaits him on the other side. Like trying to wake up from a dream. He must dread going to bed. Dread waking up each morning, to face another day. 

10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
    Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
    or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
    or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

That might seem to be a denial of the afterlife, but the point is probably that if this is a prayer for deliverance from death, and the prayer goes unanswered, then the dead can't praise God for delivering them from the jaws of death. 

13 But I, O Lord, cry to you;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
    Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,

His has been a lifelong ordeal. He is never able put it behind him. As far as the eye can see, there's no relief in sight. 

He must dread going to bed at night because he has nothing to look forward to the next day. He must dread opening his eyes in the morning because he has nothing to look forward to. The pain is unrelenting. 

they close in on me together.

He's trapped. Hemmed in on all sides.

18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
darkness has become my companion.

He prays in darkness. Groping for a flicker of light. 

The psalm ends abruptly. Hopeless from start to finish.

In another context, one commentator has said "unbelief does not doubt–faith doubts". There's a profound truth to that. Yet that doesn't quite seem to capture the sentiment here.

In this context, hope is too strong a word. More like a desperate wish. Where despair and prayer merge into one. 

Why does he pray at all, when–in his unremitting experience–prayer is futile? He continues to pray because the alternative is even worse. The alternative is unthinkable. He continues to pray because he has no other fallback. That's it!

He prays unto death. He may well have died praying. His dying breath an unanswered prayer. A final unanswered prayer. Unrequited longing. 

Sometimes life is bad, and it never gets better. It's bad and sad all the time. 

The world is not enough. 

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