Sometimes we become aware of a friend who is undergoing severe difficulties. Such a friend might be in the hospital, wrestling with infirmity or disease. Perhaps a terrible injustice has occurred, or a relationship has broken. Our friend might find that the following verses flow very easily, both into and out of his heart:
I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints.
You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
I said, "Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart."
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?"
The phrase "when I remember God I moan" perhaps sums up this frame of mind. It is not a frame of mind any of us will care to be in if we can help it. Perhaps a few of us will be spared feeling quite so low in the course of our lives.
People unfamiliar with the Bible might be surprised to discover the plain expression of pain and doubt contained in these verses. This is a believer speaking, or rather a believer saying "I am so troubled that I cannot speak." We often speak of having a relationship with God. These verses would appear to indicate a very troubled relationship.
As every night watchman knows, it is a wonderful moment when the morning sun finally begins to rise. It is almost imperceptible at first-- what was once pitch black turns navy blue, then gray. Then there is an orange color, and depending on the cloud cover it will be either brilliant and fiery or muted. The birds will begin to sing.
Our Psalmist continues. The tone begins to change:
Then I said "I will appeal to this
to the years of the right hand of the Most High."
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
You have made known your might among the peoples.
You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
(Psalm 77: 10-15).
When we remember the deeds of the Lord, we are thinking about something greater than ourselves. We are thinking about the ruler of the physical universe as well as the ruler of the civilized world, the world inhabited by free-thinking and inherently sinful people. We are thinking about the ground beneath our feet which was originally intended to be a paradise but which was cursed by the sins of humankind (Genesis 3:17). Is it any wonder that our relationship with God will appear, at times, complex? Scripture helps to guide us through tangled feelings.
The complexities of human emotion are of great interest to Tim Clinton and Joshua Straub. In their book God Attachment: Why You Believe Act and Feel the Way You Do about God, they combine psychological insights with biblical wisdom. They suggest that there are two questions which must be asked in order to understand various relationship styles. The two questions are: firstly, am I worthy of love? Secondly, are others capable of loving me? These questions inevitably bring us to reflection on our background, and the effects of parental influence. While not suggesting that individuals can escape responsibility for their own lives by "blaming" the parents, the authors clearly want to understand the roadblocks to emotional and spiritual maturity.
Drawing on their experience as Christian counselors and the writings of other psychologists such as D.W. Griffin, K. Bartholomew, and M.D.S. Ainsworth, they discuss four styles of relating: secure, anxious, avoidant and fearful. Secure attachment describes those who have a positive view of themselves and others. They believe they are worthy of love and that others are capable of loving them. They are less likely to have severe relationship issues.
The other categories, however, describe the symptoms of potentially grave relationship problems. Anxious people, for example, have a negative view of themselves, and a distorted, elevated view of others. This leads, among other things, to a fear of abandonment.
Avoidant people are the opposite of anxious people. The have an inflated view of themselves, but an excessively negative view of others. Not surprisingly, they avoid commitment and closeness. They expect little, accept little and receive little.
Fearful people have negative views of both themselves and others. They often flee from relationships altogether. We might well wonder how many atheists fit into this category! But few if any of us can claim never to have relationship issues of one kind or another, at least from time to time. These categories are useful but of course the task of the counselor is complex-it may require much time, discussion and reflection to explore the roots of these problematic attitudes. In a meticulous and thoughtful way, Clinton and Straub go on to discuss the glorious nature of God's grace. The story and the mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the rich meaning that it has for each of us on a personal basis is the ultimate therapy for the troubled soul.
Our night watchman is now basking in the full glory of the morning sun.
He contemplates another Psalm, one that he will share with a friend in the hospital:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
(Psalm 19: 1-3)
God hears us, even when we are so troubled we cannot speak. He hears us and is waiting for us, in every sense of the word.
In answer to the questions raised-are we worthy of being loved; is God capable of loving us-we might listen to a partial answer offered by Paul:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may be grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19).
In other words, yes and yes! Praise the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!