Psalm 74: Where was God?
Where was God when the Twin Towers fell? When the tsunami swept away thousands of lives in Indonesia? When the woman was brutally raped and murdered? The child abused? Christians beheaded by ISIS? Where was God? Psalm 74 is a lament of the community that asks this question. Where was God when the Temple was destroyed? Has God forsaken his sheep?
Psalm 74 – Questions for God
Psalm 74 starts with the question, “O God, why do you cut us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?” (1) The writer appeals to God to remember his people. He tells how God’s enemies came into the sanctuary, hacking away and burning, “Your foes have roared in the midst of your holy place; they set up their own signs for signs. At the upper entrance they hacked the wooden trellis with axes. And then all its carved wood they broke down with hatchets and hammers. They set your sanctuary on fire; to the ground they desecrated the dwelling place of your name.” (4-7)
There is no longer any prophet in the land to speak God’s word, “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long.” (9) He asks, how long, God? Why don’t you do something? “How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, why do you keep your right hand in your bosom?” (10-11)
Psalm 74 – Reminding God of all God has done
In the midst of this, the writer breaks into a song of praise, recounting the story of how God created the world, “Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. You did divide the sea by your might; you did break the heads of the dragons on the waters.” (12-13) “Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the luminaries and the sun. You have fixed all the bounds of the earth.” (16-17)
He recounts all that God has done as a basis for his appeal. Certainly, so great a God isn’t going to sit idly by while unbelievers scoff at his name. “Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs, and an impious people reviles your name.” (18)
After extolling God’s greatness, the writer returns to his pleas, reminding God of his covenant with his people. “Have regard for your covenant; for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence. Let not the downtrodden be put to shame; let the poor and needy praise your name.” (20-21)
Psalm 74 – No Resolution
Psalm 74 ends with no resolution. The writer is still calling upon God to do something. “Arise, O God, plead your cause; remember how the impious scoff at you all the day! Do not forget the clamor of your foes, the uproar of your adversaries which goes up continually.” (22-23)
The writer has no answer. He remembers how great God is and sings his praise, but doesn’t know why God doesn’t do something.
The Destruction of the Temple and Babylonian Exile
For the Jewish people, their faith was centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. The destruction of the Temple put them into a crisis of faith. Where was God? Where do they worship if not at the Temple?
Hard as it was, the destruction of the Temple forced them to a new faith, not based on the Temple, but on the word. The Babylonian exile scattered the Jewish people and thereby spread their faith to other countries. The perfect set-up for expanding the new Christian faith beyond Jerusalem after Jesus’ death. And so good was brought out of evil.
Current Crisis in Catholic Church
As I prayed over Psalm 74, the current crisis involving the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests came to mind. Much as I would like to forget about this dark part of church history, it keeps being brought back to the forefront. During my trip to Australia in February, headlining the news was the conviction of Cardinal George Pell for sexual abuse of two minors. The June edition of St. Anthony Messenger featured articles on the sex abuse crisis and this past weekend, more priests in Michigan were charged. When will we see the end of this? Can good be brought out of this?
An article on Irish Central calls for abolishing the priesthood in light of clerical abuse of power. I don’t know that I would go that far, but I do wonder if maybe what is needed is as radical a change as what happened for the Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple? Perhaps we need to find a new way to exercise authority in the Catholic Church, a way that isn’t hierarchical with a power structure that allows abuse. Something to think about.
What to do When God Appears to be Absent
Sometimes in life, we don’t get answers, only more questions. Abused children wonder, where was God when this was happening? Why didn’t our all-powerful God stop this? And when the abuser is a priest, a representative of God, how can the child believe in a loving God? God may seem absent throughout their life.
These are hard questions without easy answers. All I can say is that God was there, crying with those children, and God continues to cry out against such abuses. God sides with the hurt and vulnerable, but God won’t take away the gift of free will, even when used in such terrible ways.
Sometimes faith calls us to cry out to God in our pain and anguish, and continue to call out, even if there is no answer. Like the writer of Psalm 74, we cry to our God, remember the good God has done in the past, and continue to pray even if there is no answer at this time.
Have you had experiences in your life where God appeared to be absent? How did you manage to get through them? How do you hold onto faith during times of crisis?
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Still Dancing, the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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