A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – Addendum on II Corinthians 5:21

January 19th, 2019

My first post in the series A Universalist Looks at the New Testament covered II Corinthians 5. I didn’t necessarily give the greatest explanation for verse 21 — “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

I’m currently reading a book called Nothing But the Blood of Jesus, by J. D. Myers. It’s about the theology of the cross. I have just begun the book. I don’t know if the author is a universalist, but I do find myself agreeing with the theology. One thing I’m sure he’s teaching is that God is not mad at us, that Jesus did not die to save us from God.

Anyway, today I read a section talking specifically about II Corinthians 5:21, on pages 62-63. I’m going to copy out that section here. It’s out of context — but if you find it intriguing, I recommend reading the whole book.

This is an important text in the discussion of sin because Paul writes that Jesus became sin for us. When we think of sin as some sort of ethereal force which causes people to do bad things or as disobedience to God’s commands, this verse makes very little sense. If sin is a spiritual presence or polluting force brought about by disobedience to God, how can it be said in any way that Jesus “became sin”? But when we understand sin as rivalrous, scapegoating violence done in God’s name, we see that this is exactly what happened to Jesus on the cross. Every aspect of the passion narratives in the Gospels is designed to reveal that since Jesus was viewed as a rival to both religious Judaism and political Rome, He was chosen as a scapegoat to create peace among the people. Then, as often happens with scapegoats, Jesus was murdered in the name of God. So although Jesus never practiced sin and was completely innocent of all rivalry, scapegoating, and violence, He became sin for us (not for God!) so that we would see sin for what it really was. In Jesus, the sin of humanity — the rivalrous, scapegoating, and violence we commit in God’s name — was clearly revealed for all to see. He became sin! When we look at Him on the cross, we finally see our sin for what it really is. Through the crucifixion, sin was unveiled before our eyes so that we would see that all scapegoats were wrongly killed, that God was never behind our religious violence, and that God was calling all people to follow Him in loving forgiveness toward one another.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – Gehenna

January 19th, 2019

It’s time for another installment of A Universalist Looks at the New Testament because today’s Scripture passage was Mark 9:30-50.

Before I talk about the passage, I’m going to post a pretty picture from a Sonderquote I just posted from a book on universalism.

But Mark 9:42-48 is a passage that people use to say that Jesus taught that sinners will go to hell.

Again, I do believe in hell and judgment, actually — but not that it will last forever. But I don’t think Jesus is even talking about that here.

This is what the passage says, using the New International Version:
“If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die and the fire is not quenched.'”

The word that’s been translated “hell” is the Greek word Gehenna.

Rather than try to explain it myself, for this one I’m going to quote from two other universalist authors.

First from Randy Klassen’s book, What Does the Bible Really Say About Hell?, pages 46-47:

“A great millstone hung around the neck,” “unquenchable fire,” “hell, where their worm never dies,” — such are the colorful terms for God’s judgment on those sins. The language is typical rabbinical hyperbole. The image of fire is a perfect metaphor for the fire of God’s judgment. Jesus no more intended a literal description of hell than for his hearers to cut off their hands or legs or pluck out their eyes. Moreover, it is hardly consistent with all resurrection passages to imagine the saints rising with limbs or eyes missing!

Since we do not take literally the drowning with a great millstone around the neck, nor the mutilation of the body parts that offend, is it not inconsistent to take these references to hell as literal? Yet time after time does one read reference to this passage as proof that Jesus taught a literal hell!

It is probably appropriate here to examine the word translated as “hell.” It is Gehenna, the name of the Valley of Hinnom, the ever-burning garbage dump southwest of Jerusalem. It had an evil history. Under the depraved leadership of King Ahaz, Israel was encouraged to worship the god Molech and burn little children there as an offering to this pagan god. King Josiah put a stop to that practice and labeled the area accursed. Thereafter Gehenna became a sort of public incinerator. Always the fire smoldered in it, a pall of thick smoke lay over it, and it bred a loathsome kind of worm that was hard to kill. Often the bodies of the worst criminals would be deposited here.

George W. Sarris brings up the same things in his book Heaven’s Doors, and has some things to add, beginning on page 118:

What comes to your mind when you hear the word Auschwitz?

In the future, it’s possible that the word will take on a more metaphorical meaning. But right now, while the actual place still exists as a museum and in the memories of some who knew it firsthand, it reminds us of the repulsion, shame and horrible deaths experienced by those who suffered in Nazi concentration camps in World War II.

During the time of Jesus, Gehenna was well-known as a specific location near Jerusalem that had been associated with gross idolatry in the past and was then used as the common sewer of the city.

The corpses of the worst criminals were flung into it unburied, and fires were lit to purify the contaminated air. For the Jews of that day, it also implied the severest judgment that a Jewish court could pass on a criminal — throwing his unburied body into the fires and worms of that polluted valley.

Like Auschwitz, Gehenna was a place the people of Jesus’ day could actually visit. It spoke to them of repulsion, shame and horrible death. Instead of experiencing honor like their ancestors whose bodies were treated reverently when they died, those cast into Gehenna would experience the immense dishonor associated with those whose bodies had been disposed of in a dump to become an object of scorn for the masses….

Gehenna was definitely a reference to God’s judgment. But it was a judgment on earth. It was considered a temporary place of punishment. It never meant endless punishment beyond the grave.

The authors of the Apocrypha written between 500-150 BC, Philo who wrote around AD 40, and Josephus who wrote from AD 70-100, all refer to the future punishment of the wicked, but none of them ever use the word Gehenna to describe it.

He does have more to say about when Gehenna started being used differently — much later than Jesus. And even when it was seen as a place of future punishment, it was not eternal.

He’s got a whole chapter on Gehenna if that’s not enough, and I highly recommend the book!

I found another author who mentions Gehenna. Thomas Allin in Every Knee Shall Bow points out that bodies were already dead when they were thrown into Gehenna — so this wasn’t even talking about torment.

While I believe our Lord did not threaten everlasting torment if His words are correctly understood, yet they do convey a solemn warning to sinners. This warning should hold more weight than threats of eternal torment because the conscience can see the justice in it.

So that’s why I don’t think this passage contradicts universalism.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament — Mark 8

January 14th, 2019

I’ve begun a new series, A Universalist Looks at the New Testament. I’m paralleling the reading of the New Testament that my church is doing (though I began this three months after the church did), and taking a look at verses that relate to universalism — the belief that God will, eventually, save everyone.

I’ll be honest — today’s passage, Mark 8:34-38, is a little tougher to read from a universalist perspective. Part of my point in doing this series is to show that there are tough passages from both perspectives, passages that both sides need to read a little bit into. Once I saw that you can interpret the Bible either way, I chose the view that I thought fit better with God’s character, as shown throughout the Bible. But we aren’t at the point of drawing conclusions yet in this series.

Mark 8:34-38 says, “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.'”

I’m going to start with that last verse, “The Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Let me make it clear that even though I believe that all will — eventually — be saved, I still believe there will be a great judgment after death. I believe in hell — but not that it will be “eternal.” We’ll see this in other passages, but the Greek word that is translated “eternal” doesn’t have a good equivalent in English. It’s “eonian,” “of the eons,” or “of the ages.” It means an indefinite time period, or may even mean an eternal quality.

How I think it will go is this: There will be a judgment. Some will spend time — maybe eons — in hell, until the day when they will turn back to God the Father. At the “end of the ages,” God will be all in all and every knee will bow before Jesus.

So when the Son of Man comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels will be the day of judgment and is not inconsistent with this view.

That’s also the approach I take to “will lose” their life. You might say, well, losing your life sounds permanent. However, the same word is used in the second part of the sentence, “whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” That second lose is talking about life on earth. The first lose may be talking about the time (maybe even eons) of judgment.

I’ll be honest — this isn’t the greatest explanation in the world. If there weren’t multiple verses in many different places saying that God loves the whole world and in Christ all will be made alive — then I don’t think I could accept universalism. But given all those other verses, I do think it fits. One thing it does point out — no matter how much I believe in universalism, I still hope that people will come to Jesus before they die. That can actually save their lives.

But please bear with me as we continue through the New Testament….

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – II Corinthians 5

January 8th, 2019

Somewhere around 20 years ago, I became a universalist after reading writings of George MacDonald.

George MacDonald’s writings clearly show that he loved the Lord with all his heart and that he believed the Bible and knew it well, referring to the original Greek often. When I realized that he was teaching that all will (eventually) be saved, I was puzzled.

The Bible doesn’t teach that, does it? And yet George MacDonald clearly thought it did.

So — I read the New Testament through, asking if it could be interpreted this way. Much to my surprise, it can!

Since then, I’ve read many more books about universalism. I discovered that for the first 500 years of the church, universalism was the prevailing teaching! I am now convinced it’s true — and how my heart rejoices in that belief!

[Please note: George MacDonald still believed in hell and judgment, but not that it will last forever and ever to infinity. Some day, at the end of the ages, all will be saved and the last penny will be paid.]

That brings me to my new blog series, A Universalist Looks at the New Testament.

Last October, my church began reading through the New Testament together, using a booklet that assigns readings from the gospels and from the epistles for each day.

While reading through the New Testament, I’m making note of the passages that relate to universalism. I was pointing them out to a friend in emails, but decided I wanted to make them blog posts. And today’s passage — II Corinthians 5:11-21 is a wonderful, epic place to start. (I will catch up on what we read last October through December — probably this coming October through December.)

The most obvious places to start, in fact, are the ALL verses.

Look at II Corinthians 5:14-15 — “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Does all mean ALL there? Or only some? If Jesus died for all, and therefore all died in Him — won’t all receive life?

Please just sit with the idea that all means all.

But there’s more I want to talk about in this passage.

This part is not universalism. But George MacDonald also took great exception with any theology that taught that Jesus had to save us from God. He says many times in his writings, “There is not one word in the New Testament about reconciling God to us; it is we that have to be reconciled to God.”

I’ve read other writers about the cross, and have come to think that evangelicals tend to overemphasize the “payment metaphor.” If we’re teaching that God could not forgive us without Christ dying a horrible death, I think we’ve got it wrong.

If we’re teaching that God can’t look on us because we’re so sinful, I think we’ve got it wrong.

But especially: God is not mad at us! God forgives. And Paul says here, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.”

Notice: God is doing all the work. He wants to bring us to Himself. He loves us.

One more note: According to the Concordant version of the New Testament (which translates each Greek word of the original into only one word of English) and according to a note in the New International Version, verse 21 might better be translated: “God made him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The sin offerings of the Old Testament weren’t ever thought of as payment for sins. When you sinned, you brought a sin offering to restore your relationship with God. But you were the one out of sync.

There’s a whole lot more I could say about this beautiful passage. I’ll leave it with these two things:

Does ALL mean ALL?

And notice that it’s people who need to be reconciled.

2018 Christmas Letter

December 26th, 2018

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, my Friends!

What has 2018 been about for me? Newbery, Newbery, Newbery!

That’s right! I’m on the 2019 Newbery Medal Selection Committee, and it seems like everything I’ve done this year was about that. Our job is to choose the most distinguished American children’s book published in 2018, and in quest of that I’ve read more than 100,000 pages from about 600 picture books and 300 longer children’s and young adult books. Publishers have mailed almost 700 books to my house – and basically, I’m eating, sleeping, and breathing books! And I love it!

Here I am reading on my balcony

With that in mind, my main trips this year were to American Library Association conferences – Denver in February, where I got to see my brother Randy and his wife Vickey, and New Orleans in June. I’m looking forward to making our decision in Seattle at the end of January. Once the decision is made, I’ll rent a car and go visit my kids in Portland, as well as some siblings and little nieces.

I’m still Youth Services Manager at the City of Fairfax Regional Library. I started a Newbery Book Club at the library, and have also visited some local schools to talk about the award process. I’ve used this year on the Newbery to catch up on my website – I have almost finished posting all the reviews I wrote in 2016 and 2017 on sonderbooks.com. Never mind that I’ll be behind again after our winners are announced. I’ve read some fantastic books – it will be great to be allowed to talk about them.

Zephyr is the name my transgender daughter is using now, and she hopes to soon make the name change legal. She’s still living in a house with my brother Peter and four other transgender women. Zephyr tells me that most of those women came to Portland after being rejected by their families for being transgender. So I want to make very clear that not only do I believe Zephyr that living as a woman more truthfully reflects who she is – I am proud of her for living authentically. I’m also proud that this year their home served as a refuge for people who needed one when right-wing extremist groups demonstrated in Portland.

Tim has been working as a contractor for Intel for a couple years now, and just got a permanent job as a Quality Assurance Engineer for a tech company called Arris. He’ll start early in 2019. He came out and visited me (okay, and other Virginia friends) this summer – it was great to see him.

I still live in my lovely condo-by-the-lake and take lots of pictures of the great blue heron that likes to fish in the lake. I’ve enjoyed this Year of Reading tremendously! Be sure to check back after January 28 to find out which books we honored!

Much love,

Last year’s Top Ten list still applies!

10. My employers are even bragging that they’ve got a librarian on the Newbery. Wow!
9. I get to be in the Room Where It Happens.
8. Reinforces that I made a good decision becoming a children’s librarian.
7. My library system is funding my four trips to ALA conferences for my committee service.
6. I get to discuss children’s books with experts who love them as much as I do.
5. Publishers have mailed me piles of new children’s books.
4. This turned my Empty Nest into an asset instead of something to mope about.
3. Forever, the shiny sticker on our winner will remind me of this wonderful experience.
2. A fantastic connection for talking with kids about the Newbery Medal and great books.
1. Books, books, books!
I’ve gotten to spend all my spare time this year reading – without guilt!

Let the Redeemed of the Lord Tell Their Story

October 13th, 2018

I’ve been reading in Psalm 107 lately. I think NIV has tweaked the translation, and I love the way it reads now, at the beginning:

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…”

Then the psalm is about various people, in different kinds of trouble, who cry out to the Lord — and he comes through, every time.

There’s a format to each story, a refrain.

God has come through for me, multiple times and in multiple ways. I thought I’d take one of those times and put it into a Psalm 107 format:

Some were lonely and broken,
rejected by the one they loved most,

told they were unworthy of love,
told their failings were unforgiveable.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.

He sent forth his word and healed them,
he sent a community to nourish them.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,

for he heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.

How about you? What is your story?

Christ-life Inside Us

September 15th, 2018

I’m reading in C. S. Lewis’ Book of Wisdom: Meditations on Faith, Life, Love, and Literature, compiled by Andrea Kirk Assaf & Kelly Anne Leahy, and found this quote on page 56, taken from Mere Christianity:

The Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or — if they think there is not — at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.

To me, this puts the whole idea of guilt and that we can somehow disappoint God into perspective.

He doesn’t love us because we’re good. He makes us good because He loves us.

Was the Father disappointed when the prodigal son took his inheritance early and chose to squander it and go feed the pigs?

Well, it’s not like he was happy with the choice, and it’s not like he wouldn’t feel his son’s pain along with him.

But an all-knowing, all-seeing Father would also know that the son He ended up with has much better character, is a much better person altogether than if he had pouted and sulked and not really lived out his rebellion. In fact, he ended up in a better place than his older brother who did everything “right.” So, knowing the big picture, can the Father really be disappointed?

He sees His son make a bad choice — but knows that it going to make him end up as a good person — and better than he started out.

He loves his son. His bad choices, his treating the father disrespectfully don’t change that. And he knows that in the end, good will come out of his son’s bad choice.

And that, to me, is an answer to when I feel like I have let God down. Who do I think I am? Did I think God loved me because I was doing everything right and now I’ve jeopardized that?

No, God loves me. God loves me!

I do think He watches with joy when I make good choices. And He feels my pain when I make bad choices.

But He knows that the circumstances He lets into my life are shaping me into a better person, in spite of myself. And that’s delightful.


Seeing the Other

August 31st, 2018

I’ve been thinking about Patricia Evans’ books on verbal abuse lately, because of an abusive argument on Facebook saying it’s not even a valid definition — and the argument was so hurtful, it reinforced my belief that she has a great definition.

She says that when someone defines you — tells you what you think or feel (“You’re too sensitive!”), what you want, or anything else about you that they could not possibly know better than you — that is verbal abuse.

She points out that verbal abuse begins with pretending — pretending to know what’s really going on inside someone else. In her book Controlling People, she says that many people who get into habits of abusing and controlling do it because they have created a Pretend Person in their minds. When you respond as yourself — different than this ideal, pretend person — they take it as a personal offense. They tell you how you should really be responding.

I’ve been thinking about this lately in the context of my marriage that ended after my husband had an affair and left. I was completely blindsided by the affair — I thought we were both happy in the marriage. He thought we were both miserable. In fact, he argued with me that I’d been miserable for months — even though I had journals that recorded how happy I was. We were both making the mistake of reading our own experience onto the other.

Recently, when I was writing Project 52 and looked in my journals from our years of marriage, I found plenty of evidence of fights and disagreements. But I would pray about it in my journal and remind myself that my husband loved me and make myself feel better. But I think I assumed if I felt better, than he must feel better, too. How much of my husband did I not see?

Now, in my defense, neither one of us should expect our spouse to be a mind reader. When I’d ask my husband if something was wrong, he would usually tell me he was fine — and I’d usually take him at his word. I see how messy it was after the fact.

On a less significant level, since I’ve learned the definition of verbal abuse, I’ve noticed that exactly when I feel out of sync with my girlfriends is when they make assumptions about what I’m thinking or feeling. I’ve got a friend who will praise me for spending lots of time reading — as if it’s something I’m dutifully doing instead of a guilty pleasure! Or in some other way, it’s jarring when a friend reads you wrong.

But when my friends read me wrong — they are willing to be corrected. That’s the difference with verbal abuse — an abuser tells you that your motives are bad and even argues from what you’ve said that they can prove your motives are bad. (This is nonsense, by the way.)

But how often did I expect my spouse to read my mind and know how to please me without me telling him? And how often did I expect him to be pleased when I did something for him that would please me?

I’m an INFJ — and I think that does make me prone to snap judgments about people. I got a crush on my husband rather quickly, and I still get crushes today. And once I’ve got a crush — it’s harder to see that person for who they really are. I need to remind myself that they don’t automatically see the world the same way I do. That doesn’t automatically make us alike in every respect. That doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to be easy to live with.

Those kind of assumptions can be somewhat shocking when you do try to build a home together. I’d like to go into any future relationships with eyes wide open. Not only for my own sake, but also for my partner’s sake.

And I’d like to have a humble spirit — willing to learn from him. Not only to enrich my life by seeing things from a different perspective, but to learn how I can best make him feel loved — not assuming I already know what my Pretend Partner needs.

All this reminds me of a quote from C. S. Lewis’s book, A Grief Observed:

“Not my idea of God, but God. Not my idea of H., but H. Yes, and also not my idea of my neighbour, but my neighbour. For don’t we often make this mistake as regards people who are still alive — who are with us in the same room? Talking and acting not to the man himself but to the picture — almost the précis — we’ve made of him in our own minds? And he has to depart from it pretty widely before we even notice the fact.”

Lord, help me to see the other person in front of me and not the Pretend Person I’ve invented and that I want or expect to be there.

Part of loving someone is seeing who they really are. May I learn to love like that.

Jonah’s Lament

July 15th, 2018

I was thinking about Laments a couple days ago. Then today, our pastor began a sermon series in Jonah.

Why did this strike me? Jonah chapter 2, his prayer from the belly of the whale, is a Lament.

Now, when a modern reader reads Jonah, the prayer seems, frankly, a little odd. If I were swallowed by a great fish, I’d pray something like, “Lord, I need out of this fish!” Or: “In the name of Jesus, fish, I command you to vomit me up!”

But Jonah’s prayer as given in the account is exactly the appropriate prayer from the perspective of his time and his culture.

According to the professor of my Psalms class at Biola, the Lament form wasn’t unique to the psalms. Other Ancient Near East poetry used the same form. And this form is one of the most common forms you’ll find in the Psalms. To those of that time, this is a good way to pray when you’re in trouble.

The belly of a whale is proverbial trouble.

Now, the form doesn’t have every component every time. And when I look more carefully, it seems closer to the very-closely-related Thanksgiving Psalm form. Let’s look at the verses with that in mind:

I. Introduction

In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

[Note: II. Call to Praise is missing, which is often true in the Psalms, too.]

III. Account
A. Crisis in Retrospect
[This is very closely related to the Lament part two, the Complaint. The main difference is that in a Thanksgiving Psalm, it’s usually past tense – as it is here in Jonah.]

You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.

B. Deliverance (slight order change here)
2. You heard and you intervened.

But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.

1. I called.

When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

IV. Praise
[Here this more closely fits the Lament finale – Vow to Praise.]

Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’

So why would Jonah, in the belly of the whale, pray a Thanksgiving Psalm?

Well, his words answer that. We are used to thinking of being in the belly of the whale as the worst thing that can happen to you. But remember, first he was thrown into a raging storm:

The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.

I’m thinking that the great fish didn’t swallow Jonah the moment he hit the water. I’m thinking when his “life was ebbing away,” when he was minutes from drowning – that’s when he desperately called on the Lord.

For Jonah, the great fish was a rescue, a place to reflect.

We forget that drowning was the danger – the great fish was the deliverance. And Jonah was given a gift of three days to reflect. Now he had time to compose a psalm.

Thanksgiving was completely appropriate.

I also think that after miraculously escaping from drowning – I seriously doubt that Jonah was terribly concerned that God was going to leave him inside the belly of the great fish. He’d just experienced a miracle, after all.

But that also explains why he’s still using the “Vow to Praise” at the end, rather than the straightforward praise of a regular Thanksgiving Psalm. In a Lament, the psalmist generally finishes off with, “When I get out of this, I’m going to tell the world how wonderful you are!” In the belly of the great fish, Jonah wasn’t yet in a position to testify to God’s faithfulness to anyone else. But he has enough confidence in God’s deliverance – already saved from drowning – to vow that he will do it.

So there you have it. The next time you find yourself metaphorically in the belly of a whale, or metaphorically saved from drowning – think about following Jonah’s example with a Lament or Psalm of Thanksgiving. I like the way these psalms remind us that God hears and answers.

Psalms for Prayer

July 13th, 2018

I was thinking about Laments today.

I talked about forms of psalms – Laments and Thanksgiving Psalms in posts from three years ago.

The idea is that we can use the forms used in the book of Psalms to pray our own prayers. But to be honest, I’m a little embarrassed by the psalms of my own I wrote and posted as examples. (But part of the point is that it doesn’t have to be good writing!)

Here’s the form of a Lament:
1) Address to God
2) Lament or complaint
3) Review of God’s Help (Confession of Trust)
4) Petition
5) Words of Assurance
6) Vow to Praise

I was thinking about Laments because I currently have multiple friends, relatives, and acquaintances dealing with cancer or other life-threatening illnesses. On top of that, I’m discouraged by what’s happening to our country.

With a Lament, you’re allowed to question. You’re allowed to complain. You’re allowed to feel pain.

You do come back around. You remember how God’s helped in the past. You ask for help. You express belief that God will come through. You make promises that you are going to praise God when this is over!

To be honest, I don’t feel adequate to write a Lament for my friends, or for our country. At least not that I’m willing to post.

But where I am in my own life is a spacious place. After a long, dark time. After some wilderness wanderings. So I’m going to try a psalm of Thanksgiving. Here’s the form for that:

Thanksgiving Psalm
I) Introduction
II) Call to Praise
III) The Story
A) Crisis in Retrospect
B) Deliverance
1) I called.
2) You heard and you intervened.
IV) Praise

Okay, I’m going to try it. I’m going to be rather vague, in the name of symbolism. (And because I’ve been rescued from obsessive thoughts!) Remember: They don’t have to be great literature. I will probably borrow heavily from the Psalms. And I’m going to try to include parallelism. Also remember that you don’t have to slavishly follow the form.


Lord, I’m here to praise you.
May my heart always sing to you.
You gave me new life.
You brought me out of the cocoon.

Let everyone rescued by the Lord remember.
Let us sing
for the joy of being alive today,
for the light of hope again in our eyes.

For his voice when all was dark,
for his healing when the world spun,
for his solution when my resources were spent,
for his presence when I felt all alone,
for his confirmation when I was without confidence,
for his notice when I felt utterly insignificant,
for his good gifts when I felt worthless,
for his calling when I felt useless.

O Lord, you gave all these things.

My mind was spinning and obsessing.
My hopes and plans were shattered.

You changed my tears to laughter,
my disappointment to joy.

The cocoon was dark and dismal;
now flowers line my path.
I may not be soaring,
but my wings have dried,
and I’m beginning to flutter.

Lord, I didn’t understand the darkness,
but your love has made me new.

Praise the Lord
for his unfailing love
and his mercies that never fail.

Praise the Lord.

That’s my example. The real reason to post is in hope that you’ll try it yourself. But also that you’ll join me in praising the Lord.