Listening with and to.

My friend is in a hard moment. I’m often hesitant to share individual Bible verses with people in those moments, because the verse out of context is often more harmful than helpful.

Instead, I wrote, “I’ve been meaning to write on Psalms 38, 39, 40, the sheer frustration in them, without resolution. I’ve haven’t gotten there yet. But they do affirm that frustration with God is okay to express without an accompanying self-condemnation.”

Psalm 38, for example, is painful. The writer asks God to stop the discipline, the scolding. We don’t know the offense. We don’t know the reason for the felt guilt. We know in great detail the perceived pressure of the divine hand. “There is no health in my body,” he writes, “My wounds fester and are loathsome . . my back is filled with searing pain . .  my friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds.”

Though we could, I’m not sure I want to unpack the logic of this psalm. “So what was the sin? Was the punishment deserved? Is this an example of the angry God of the Old Testament that has been replaced by the loving God of the New Testament? What about I John 1:9 where we’re told that if we confess our sins God will forgive them?”

Not that unpacking is always inappropriate. But, unpacking is not helpful when this expression of pain and repentance is coming out of someone’s mouth. This person doesn’t need scolding for bad theology or sunny optimism.

Instead, this person needs a friend to be present (since most are staying away), an ear to listen carefully, a hand to offer acetaminophen and a cold cloth, and a willingness to listen for God’s words.

Because this may not be about God’s wrath after all, as we know from Job.

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