Prayer, Pain and the Promises of God

Pain by Thomas Hawk

Jeremiah 4:19 NRSV
My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.

When we ask why in our prayers, we have somehow recognized that we are permitted to bring every question, every issue, every confusion, and every struggle to God. We may not understand what’s going on, but God knows that we cannot pray authentically unless we can honestly express every thought and emotion.
– Steve Harper, Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn’t Make Sense

The Psalms invite us to be honest. Some Christians have difficulty with the imprecatory psalms [psalms that invoke judgment, calamity, or curses upon one’s enemies] and would prefer to leave them out of the Bible. Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors and even our enemies, so how can we possibly utter words in which we demand revenge? Rejection of such passages may indicate our unwillingness to deal with feelings of rage and vindictiveness or our prideful desire to be better than the original writers. Of course we don’t really intend to murder our enemies – or have God do it for us – but do we not identify with outraged desire for revenge? Speaking such desires to God means leaving them in the hands of our loving Creator, the only one who can be trusted to act with grace toward us and toward those we wish to destroy. Even the imprecatory psalms can have a healing effect on us. – Elizabeth J. Canham, Finding Your Voice in the Psalms

Religion is largely populated by people afraid of hell; spirituality begins to make sense to those who have been through hell—that is, who have drunk deeply of life’s difficulties. Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality

Walter Brueggemann said: “Churches should be the most honest place in town, not the happiest place in town.” Maybe we have lost the “art of lament,” where complaining to God is part of the deal. Maybe, rather than playing church and make-believe, a vital dimension of the spiritual journey is giving God an earful now and then. Maybe God can handle it. Maybe God likes it, because it means we are being real and not fake. Maybe if you’re angry with God now and then, you’re normal. Maybe that’s part of being the people of God. – Peter Enns, When God is Unfaithful

Psalm 69:29 NIV
I am in pain and distress; may your salvation, O God, protect me.

What is so disturbing about the book of Job is that it blows the lid off the theology of retribution. That is that theology that says, if you do good then good things will happen to you; if you do bad then bad things will happen to you. That is the kind of world we can understand, order, and best of all, control. When Job encounters the sea, he encounters the chaos and disorder within the creation. He is presented with an undomesticated God who is not the originator of the chaos, but who does in fact allow it for a time until the creation will be restored to its intended beauty. There are no tightly ordered systems, there is no guarantee that any created thing will avoid the wildness or even suffering. Job must learn how to confront a world like that where there are no guarantees, and yet learn to live without fear. I think here of Frederick Buechner’s beautiful quote: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” – Jonathan Martin, The God of the Sea and the Sea Monster

Barrenness does not simply mean that a woman cannot have children. Infertility can be fraught with all kinds of unmentioned trials and varying levels of pain. And rarely is it clean. It is messy. Enduring a miscarriage is a horrifying experience of encountering life blood seeping from your body. Not to mention the emotional trauma of infertility, the self-inflicted guilt, feelings of failure, the possible onslaught of depression. Only after we acknowledge the physical reality of barrenness can we begin to consider how such pain can transfer to other forms of barrenness. Then we can adequately name other empty spaces in our lives that feel as painful as the ache of a womb that refuses to carry life, the purpose for its creation.- Enuma Okoro

We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world
–the company of those who have known suffering. – Helen Keller

Psalm 38:12-17 NRSV
Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek to hurt me speak of ruin, and meditate treachery all day long. But I am like the deaf, I do not hear; like the mute, who cannot speak. Truly, I am like one who does not hear, and in whose mouth is no retort. But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. For I pray, “Only do not let them rejoice over me, those who boast against me when my foot slips.” For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me.

Extended quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
People turn to God when they’re in need,
plead for help, contentment, and for bread,
for rescue from their sickness, guilt, and death.
They all do so, both Christian and pagan.

People turn to God in God’s own need,
and find God poor, degraded, without roof or bread,
see God devoured by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand with God to share God’s pain.

God turns to all people in their need,
nourishes body and soul with God’s own bread,
takes up the cross for Christians and pagans, both,
and in forgiving both, is slain.

Pain is never permanent. – Teresa of Avila

When it is all over you will not regret having suffered;
rather you will regret having suffered so little,
and suffered that little so badly. –Sebastian Valfre

Jesus calls us to gratitude. He call us to recognize that gladness and sadness are never separate, that joy and sorrow really belong together, and that mourning and dancing are part of the same movement. That is why Jesus calls us to be grateful for every moment that we have lived and to claim our unique journey as God’s way to mold our hearts to greater conformity with God’s own. The cross is the main symbol of our faith, and it invites us to find hope where we see pain and to reaffirm the resurrection where we see death. The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment of our life can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads us to new life.
– Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Living

I am alone in the room of my affliction,
yet you are present within me;
your grace breathes beneath my troubles
and bears me out of this narrow place.
You know the corpse in me.
Bring it to life.
– selection from Psalm 25 by Steve Garnaas-Holmes

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Today’s featured artist is photographer and blogger Thomas Hawk. Click here to find more of his great work.

Click here for another reflection on suffering entitled God will wipe away every tear by Steve Garnaas-Holmes.

For more information on use of the scripture, art and this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page

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