Psalm 88:14–19; Deuteronomy 32:10–43; Luke 11:1–13

Psalm 88:14–19: Our psalmist continues in deep despair. Even though he has been faithful to God, the favor has not been returned. God seems to be nowhere present as he asks the eternal question:
As for me—to You, Lord, I shouted,
and in the morn my prayer would greet You.
Why, Lord, do You abandon my life,
do You hide Your face from me? (14, 15)

Our poet has been humble and apparently has experienced a significant trauma in his youth that he feels is attributable to God’s anger. In short, he has suffered on God’s behalf:
Lowly am I and near death from my youth
I have borne Your terrors, I am fearful.
Over me Your rage has passed,
your horrors destroy me. (16, 17)

These horrors continue to haunt him. I would take them to be some kind of psychological illness—paranoia perhaps. In any event he has lost his friends and relationships due to whatever he blames God for having done:
They surround me like water all day long,
they encircle me completely.
You distanced lover and neighbor form me.
My friends—utter darkness. (18, 19)

Of all the psalms of supplication we have thus far encountered; of all the cries to a seemingly absent God, this cry is the darkest, the least hopeful. Unlike other psalms of supplication there is no concluding statement about God’s greatness or mercy. There is only the hopeless void of complete abandonment by humans—and by God himself. There is only utter darkness.

If ever we needed a description of what the depths of depression must be like it is right here. And it reminds us that the psalms are not all encomiums to God’s goodness and mercy. That is why for me this is the most emotionally honest book in the Bible.

Deuteronomy 32:10–43: In their effort to make Moses the author of this book (and the entire Pentateuch) the editors have positioned the Song of Moses as prospective—as prophecy. Yet, as we read it there’s little question (to me, anyway) that the poem is retrospective—a lamentation of Israel’s abandonment of God in favor of small-g gods and God’s vengeance upon them:
[Israel] abandoned God who made him,
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They made him jealous with strange gods,
    with abhorrent things they provoked him.
They sacrificed to demons, not God,
    to deities they had never known,
to new ones recently arrived,
    whom your ancestors had not feared. (15b-17)

They have committed the greatest sin of all:
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you;
    you forgot the God who gave you birth. (18)

Which is exactly what our own culture has made great progress doing. Thise who forget God will pay the price:
Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
    for the time when their foot shall slip;
because the day of their calamity is at hand,
    their doom comes swiftly. (35)

But God will grant mercy when the people return to God. But this will only happen after the trappings of power are gone; after humankind has seen that their pride in their own accomplishment has brought about their downfall—and they see that the small-g gods they created are indeed powerless:
Indeed the Lord will vindicate his people,
    have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone,
    neither bond nor free remaining.
Then he will say: Where are their gods,
    the rock in which they took refuge,
who ate the fat of their sacrifices,
    and drank the wine of their libations?
Let them rise up and help you,
    let them be your protection! (36-38)

For there is only one God who rules over all creation:
See now that I, even I, am he;
    there is no god besides me.
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and no one can deliver from my hand. (39)

As the history of Israel illustrates—and this poem reminds us—we know—as these authors knew—that abandoning God leads to dire consequences. All empires fall—many from inward corruption and those in power believing that they control the destiny of the nation.

Luke 11:1–13: The disciples request Jesus to teach them a prayer. Of course it’s the Lord’s Prayer, but only the first part, (which I think is where the Catholocs end it):
Father, hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (2-4)

While we intone this prayer every week in worship, we would do well to recall the context here. Jesus goes on to remind his listeners that persistence is a big part of prayer. He uses the example of the man waking up his friend in the middle of the night and asking for three loaves of bread. At first the man refuses and although Luke doesn’t tell us explicitly, he gives in and gives his friend the bread.  Jesus point: so, too, with prayer.

For me there’s the clear implication that prayer is not about finding a parking place or some other trivial desire. God is certainly not a vending machine of favors. Rather, it is persistent prayer that results in God’s answer, which Jesus tells us in his famous promise: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (9,10)

Moreover, God will answer with what is best for us. I think that’s what Jesus is getting at in his rhetorical questions, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?” (11,12) We can expect only the best for us form God—and the best for us may not always be what we desire.

The promise of answered holds because answered prayer comes from God: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (13) Notice what God’s gift is here: it is not some action or some object. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who will come to us when we ask; when we search; when we knock.

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