The breaking point.
It comes at different times and various places, but most of us reach it at some point in our lives. The feelings of anguish, grief, and I-just-can’t-take-it-anymore frustration burst out of us.
A rant, a sob, the violent brushstrokes of tortured art- somehow or another, an outlet must be found before we choke on that which we can no longer keep down.
The people of Israel reached the breaking point.
The Promised Land never really was the paradise they expected. There seemed to be a “but God, didn’t you say?” question with each battle and each disappointment that came their way. Their leaders waxed and waned in their faithfulness to Yahweh, which led to cycles of idol worship, sin, battles, and repentance among the people.
But still, God seemed with them. For them. Still leading them to a time that would be different.
Yet at the end of the tunnel, they didn’t find light. They found destruction. A take-over by an enemy people who destroy their sacred temple and lead them away to exile.
They reached the breaking point.
Asaph’s response was to write Psalm 74.
For awhile, this Psalm dances on the sharp edges between anger and despair, the quiet pleading of someone who has been shattered by life.
O God, why have you rejected us forever?
Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?
– Psalm 74:1
We are given no signs from God;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.
How long will the enemy mock you, God?
Will the foe revile your name forever?
– Psalm 74:9-10
Then, in strange contrast, the words make turn. The song marches on into a tribute to God’s faithfulness.
But God is my King from long ago;
he brings salvation on the earth. – Psalm 74:12
You are the King. You bring salvation. It was you who split the sea. It was you who created this earth. It was you.
I wonder if these words were sung through gritted teeth. What does praise in the midst of splintered emotion sound like? I hear him shouting, “It was you who did these great things! I think I still believe that, somewhere underneath this rubble. Yet that makes me wonder all the more… where are you now?!?”
God, where are you now, when I am at my breaking point?
Rise up, O God, and defend – Psalm 74:22
Help me. Please. I am broken and desperate and buried in my misery and need you. Rise up from wherever you are hidden.
Sometimes I forget that the Psalms are a sort of hymnal, recorded in the words of the Holy Scriptures.
These are words that would have been sung by the people when they gathered together for worship.
This breaking point Psalm would have been sung together by the people of Israel, years after they returned from exile.
Their hymnody, their liturgy, their songs of praise to their God, chose to remember the bad along with the good. The lyrics were complex and raw and aching with the reality of life.
I wonder what would happen if our modern worship songs reflected the kind of heartache that echoes in the Psalms. What if we chose to sing about the times God let us down right before singing about the 10,000 reasons we have to praise Him?
I wonder what they would feel like to a visitor, walking in off the street, wondering if church is worth it, if the people can be trusted with his pain. Would the accessibility of those songs bring some relief to his heavy heart?
What if our worship became a place of hope for the broken? What if our songs projected the hope that we are a people who have experienced loss and are ready to walk in the mess beside those who are in pain?
It seems to me there is value in singing about our breaking points as much as we sing about our highlights. Maybe that is a lesson the Psalms are meant to teach us.
That is my reflection on Psalm 74. Please link up below with your own thoughts, and read the words of others. Then join us next week for Psalm 75.