One of the most healthy spiritual disciplines for me is to regularly sit before a holy God during my prayer time. I use Exodus 9:9-25 and visualize myself sitting on the holy mountain as one of those original Israelites. I try to feel the emotion that comes with trying to comprehend the vast chasm between God’s holiness and my sinfulness. Then I turn my prayer and meditation time toward Colossians 1:22, Romans 8:15-17, and Matthew 3:16-17. The chasm of separation between me and God gets filled as the floodgates of Jesus’ love, grace, and mercy open. I can only unlock the riches of this gift if I first walk the path of understanding how much I don’t deserve it. When I begin to comprehend that I don’t deserve it, I can begin to experience how beautiful and amazing it is that I get to have it.
I have heard lament described as a language of prayer. Have you ever been in a foreign country and you didn’t speak the language? If you tried venturing away from your interpreter, guide, or the comfortable confines of your English-speaking resort, you quickly find yourself baffled and bewildered. You need a common language to connect and communicate. God gave us the language of lament when we are suffering and everything is falling apart around us. A language that acknowledges the state of the world we live in. If we don’t know this language, mostly because our church tradition has neglected it in favor of products that sell better, we will be baffled and bewildered when suffering hits us.
Sometimes I think it can’t get any worse than it is right now. Or that it’s never been this bad. Psalm 12:8 reminds me that it’s been this way for thousands of years. On one hand, that sure is a discouraging thought on its own. But despite humankind’s obsession with and acceptance of evil, hope and encouragement come from knowing God has remained faithful all this time. If the evil of the past hasn’t knocked God out, the evil of the present sure isn’t going to either. God has remained on the throne. God cares about the needy and the oppressed. God will judge the wicked. God is and always has been worthy of our praise, adoration, and obedience.
When we are going through suffering and trials, we so often forget that there is an eternal or spiritual reality that is as true, if not more true, than the temporary, physical reality we see in front of us. When our foundations in this physical reality get destroyed, it’s so easy to think it’s the end of the world. It’s so easy to think all hope is lost and to fall deep into despair. Psalm 11 reminds us that God’s job is never at stake. He’s never on the hot seat. God will judge the wicked, period. And God will rescue his children, period. God loves justice. God wins. God is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
Only God knows why he sometimes answers these prayers in the moment and other times, like with the Hebrews’ enslavement in Egypt, or blacks’ enslavement in the United States, it takes centuries. But the psalmist rests in the truth that God is King for ever and ever and that these wicked nations will perish from the land. God is more powerful than the wicked nations who oppress and enslave and exploit. He was more powerful than Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Rome. And he’s certainly more powerful than the United States and the rest of today’s world powers.
Oppression and injustice happen when a person or a group of people is deprived, usually by law or by force, of basic and equal rights that are allotted to others. Often oppression and injustice use categories of people to afflict their damages. For example, our country was founded and built on laws that allowed for the brutal killing and enslavement of blacks and Native Americans, with many laws explicitly benefiting white people by name. This is oppression and injustice. Refugees are oppressed by something going on in their home country that they are fleeing from in order to save their lives. This is often religious or ethnic persecution and is often related to wars or guerrilla warfare dangers. The oppressed are the ones under the boot of those with power. We get less comfortable talking about oppression and injustice when we start looking at the vast inequities in the United States between whites and people of color. It’s a lot easier to talk about oppression of biblical times and the distant past, but much more uneasy when it’s right under our nose and we may or may not even be aware of it or acknowledge it.