By Steven Norris
“As the deer pants for streams of waters, so my soul pants for you, my God.” For those that grew up in the church, this famous line from Psalm 42 was the inspiration for one of the early praise choruses used in numerous churches. I remember singing that sweet and tender melody as a child. I remember visualizing the deer that roamed my Mamaw’s property standing at one of the quiet streams, quenching its thirst.
Then…I read the rest of the Psalm. Far from being a psalm of sweetness and tender praise, this psalm is a cry for help. The psalmist thirsts for God because God seems so far away, so absent from his or her daily experience.
“My tears have been my food both day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” the psalmist writes. “I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go on mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’”
In times like these, we too are asking the same questions of God. This week, New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, published an interesting article in Time magazine. His provocative title reads, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.” In the article, Wright argues:
“Rationalists want explanations; Romantics want to be given a sigh of relief. But perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, ‘Why?’ and don’t get an answer. It’s where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world.”
Psalms such as Psalm 42 fall into the category of “lament psalms.” They aren’t afraid to ask God the hard questions, though they are pretty clear that, many times, there are no suitable answers.
As a musician, I was bothered by the discontinuity between the song of my childhood and the fuller context of the verses that surrounded its lyrics. Therefore, I sat down with my guitar and my flute and began to play. What emerged was plaintive melody in a minor key. The sounds that drifted from the wood of that flute almost mimicked the sobs I sensed in the text – the longing, the pain, and the sorrow.
This is the song we find ourselves singing. The minor key melodies of Lent find resonance with the uncertainty and unanswered questions that swirl in our minds. The plaintive sobs give voice to our own fear, grief, and isolation.
And yet, we are not a people devoid of hope. And yet, the psalm refuses to end on those tense minor strains. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him.” Lament, while appropriate for today, is not the end of the story. We will praise God and rejoice once again. It may not be today, tomorrow, or the next day, but it will come. So, hold on friends.