“You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.” Psalm 44:12
Yesterday we talked about us giving up on false gods, today our scripture is about how it feels when the Living God seems to have given up on us. The psalmist, as is so often the case, goes back and forth from speaking about the Lord’s great love and faithfulness to the awful things that have and are happening to his people, seemingly at God’s hand. Imagine if we sang such words in church about the tragedies that are part of life today! I kind of wish that we did, because although it might not feel theologically correct, it would be an honest heart cry about how harsh life sometimes feels.
Slavery was a huge part of Old Testament life and a captured city or state could expect to have nearly all its inhabitants carted off into a life of slavery or hard labour. Slaves were part of the spoils of war and people were openly sold, as was still the case in Jesus’ time. Slavery still exists of course, though it tends to fly under the radar of western legality where it is no longer acceptable. Evil usually finds a way to perpetuate its most profitable trades. But this verse tells us that God himself sold his people into slavery, and that he did so without even ascribing them any worth. This is no empty accusation, but a deep and heartbroken lament.
This Psalm could have been penned by Job himself, echoing as it does the cry for justice and the innocence of the ones who feel accused. What can we say? There are times in the history of each one of us, as well as in the history of an entire people, when it seems as though God has abandoned us. Let’s be honest, since truth is a powerful prayer. There are times when we feel that God counts us nothing, and would sell us for a trifle. But this is only how it seems.
We can admit too though, if we have the courage to do so, that how something seems and feels can actually matter quite a lot. And we can ask God into the pain we are experiencing at the very same time as we wonder if he has brought this upon us. We can cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as we suffer, and it is not heresy. It is not wickedness. We are allowed to feel pain and to feel abandoned and to question our God. He is so mighty and gracious that he does not hold this against us, but encourages us to speak our hearts, to call out to him.
As Christians we know too, that he has lived out the very same human awfulness and is somehow, mysteriously, living out our suffering with us, even as we cry out for his help. Perhaps at a deep level there is a symbiotic connection of empathy going on at these times, where we are sharing in his suffering, and he in ours. His love becomes the last drop of hope we clench our fists around, and we know even as we feel ourselves fall, that it is somehow all we need, and wholeness is found in the emptiest of places.
“We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.” End of Psalm 44:25-26
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