Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why I Can't Pray Like That

I read the first 5 verses of Psalm 59, and couldn't get past them:
Deliver me from my enemies, O God;
    be my fortress against those who are attacking me.
Deliver me from evildoers
    and save me from those who are after my blood.
See how they lie in wait for me!
    Fierce men conspire against me
    for no offense or sin of mine, Lord.
I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me.
    Arise to help me; look on my plight!
You, Lord God Almighty,
    you who are the God of Israel,
rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
    show no mercy to wicked traitors.
Because I can't pray like that.

And I won't pray like that. And it feels wrong and evil and immoral to pray like that.

Because every day in the news, there are people dying from violence and accidents and natural disasters. God didn't save them- how can I ask him to save me?

People die for stupid reasons all the time. It's horrible. Why does God let it happen? They're people, just like me. There's no reason they're somehow more "deserving" of suffering than me.

And people suffer and die and face hardship and loss and pain worse than anything I've experienced, and God does NOTHING to stop it. Disgusting. Why would I want to associate with a God like that?

How can I ask God to help me? "God, help me- treat me better than you treated my millions of brothers and sisters. Come and intervene in my situation, instead of staying cold and distant like you did when they cried out. God help me with the little worries I have, the little problems I face, which don't matter in the grand scheme of things- help me with the little things, when you didn't even protect their lives."

I hardly ever pray for myself. It just feels so wrong. I usually just pray to give thanks for the good in my life, and I pray that God would bless my friends/family/random people.

Yeah I have problems. Yeah I want help. I want God's help. But... praying for that feels like throwing my brothers and sisters under the bus. And I just can't. That is, until I have an occasional moment of fear and panic and I'm willing to do anything for help, to throw out my morals and make a deal with the devil- to pray to the God who lets people die.

(I've said before that I don't trust God- but I do trust him to understand what I'm feeling and not strike me with lightning because of that last line there.)

Oh geez. Image source.

How can David pray, "Deliver me from my enemies, O God," when so many people are not delivered from their enemies?

What about Ahimelek the priest and his entire family? He helped David, providing him with supplies when he fled from Saul- then Saul came and had Ahimelek and his entire town killed.

What about Jonathan, David's best friend, killed in battle along with King Saul?

What about the Israelite soldiers who died fighting their fellow Israelites when Saul's son challenged David's claim to the throne?

What about Asahel, David's nephew, killed in battle?

What about Abner, who came in peace to help David secure his place as king, but was murdered by Joab?

What about Uzzah, whom God struck down because he touched the ark of the covenant?

What about Uriah, a mighty man in David's army, whom David killed in order to steal his wife, Bathsheba?

What about Bathsheba's and David's baby, who died as part of David's punishment for that whole adultery/murder thing?

What about David's daughter Tamar, who was raped by her half-brother Amnon? [trigger warning on that link]

Throughout David's entire life, he witnessed war and violence and death- and his friends and family weren't always spared. So how could he pray this prayer?

Was he just young and naive? This psalm was apparently written "when Saul had sent men to watch David's house in order to kill him." Sounds like 1 Samuel 19, right when David first needed to flee from Saul. Maybe at that point in his life, he hadn't yet seen friends suffer and die for stupid reasons. Maybe this is a naive prayer.

Or maybe not.

Maybe David knew the bad, the injustice that God allows, for reasons no one understands- but he also knew the good. Maybe David had seen God working, had seen prayers answered, had seen enough to know that God cared and God listened.

Maybe David wasn't just sitting behind his computer, cynical about the world. Maybe he wasn't afraid all the time, imagining worst-case scenarios, unable to trust anyone for anything because there are no absolute guarantees.

Maybe he experienced God's power working in the world, an incredible force for good. Maybe he didn't just completely ignore it because of the existence of suffering. Maybe he saw both the good and the bad.

And I really believe that's what will get me out of this dead end. This is how I will trust God again and have faith again. I've been developing this new idea slowly, over the past few months, about what "faith" means and how it's totally not what I thought faith was.

I've identified my problem: I've become fixated on the bad things, "the problem of evil," unable to move forward because the existence of those "bad things" completely destroys the foundations on which my trust and faith had been built. I believed in certainty. I believed God would always provide a way out. I believed Jesus was all I needed.

Slowly, slowly, slowly I'm relearning this. Slowly I'm grasping the idea that maybe faith actually does mean believing in something that's not certain.

It's hard for me to understand. Slowly, slowly.

But from time to time, I do pray for God's help.


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 59. To read other people's posts, click here: exchanging my walls for a fortress.


  1. I definitely have this kind of reaction sometimes. It is very easy to focus on the evil and the problem of evil and to struggle with how to pray for others, for ourselves, for justice. I love that you put your own struggle out here and are honest because it's very encouraging!

  2. I love this post so much! I love your honesty and your holistic approach. I think you are right. Understanding the problem of evil and how God works is a huge hurdle in a lot of people's faiths. But, David knew the world could be a harsh place, too- that's why he cries out so deeply so often for God's justice to be done. Because he also saw the good. I'm glad you are on a journey where you can see that too.