When I look at your heavens . . . what is man that you are mindful of him (Psalm 8:3-4).
God is mindful of you. After the events of this week, you may have your doubts about that.
In the language of Psalm 8 the reality of God’s awareness of us is stated as a question rather than a declaration. The Psalmist looks at the vastness of the heavens, the myriad heavenly bodies, and wonders how it is possible. How is it possible that the God who made all of this takes notice of us? Can we truly believe that in the expanse and complexity of this universe God takes note of every sparrow that falls to the ground and numbers every hair on your head (Matt. 10:29-30)?
The Psalmist writes from a worldview that is increasingly challenged. Plenty of people have abandoned it all together. When the Psalmist asked how it was possible for God to be mindful of us, the question was actually a conviction. The question was grounded in the certainty that God knows and cares for us as beings made in God’s image.
But when we raise the same question, our question sometimes masks an accusation. To ask how God could be mindful of us is to say that God isn’t mindful of us at all.
And then there’s Boston. Thick plumes of smoke from Boston darken the skies above us rendering the heavens irrelevant and making it nearly impossible to contemplate the majesty of God’s name. We have questions. Hard questions. How is it possible that God is mindful of us? Moreover, how is it possible for any of us here on the ground to actually believe that God is mindful of us?
At this point we’ll need to look further than Psalm 8. We need more than an awe-struck gazing into starry skies. Psalm 8 belongs to a collection of 150 other prayers, some of which give voice to joy and gladness, some of which express deep gratitude – but not all. Not by a long shot. In fact the most common type of Psalm is a prayer of lament. The Psalms show us how to pray in the midst of suffering and loss and disillusionment. People who pray are not naïve.
We have been urged this week to “pray for Boston.” We should do so, and fervently. But how can we move beyond generic prayers for God to bless or help? How can we pray in such a way that our prayers are more than a technique for managing our own anxieties? We can do this by opening our Bibles and reading and praying the Psalms of lament. The Psalms will allow us to speak hard questions while keeping those questions grounded in conviction.
Whether your questions come from the mysteries of science or the miseries of the world, bring them to your prayers. Give honest expression to the questions without abandoning the convictions that make prayer possible to begin with.
To pray – especially when the prayers voice questions and pain – is to be mindful of God. And every prayer can be offered in confidence knowing that God is indeed mindful of us.
Teach us to pray, O God – often and honestly. Make us willing to voice lament as well as joy. Help us with what we cannot understand. Grant us grace that keeps our questions grounded in conviction, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.