Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Seeking Solace

I was faithful even when I said, “I suffered terribly;”
I said in my panic, “All people are unreliable!”
 (Psalms 116:10-11)

I am struck by the unflinching honesty of the Psalmist, who readily admits to human frailty in suffering.  Often, when we are distracted by pain, we allow its attendant anger to overtake us, and we blurt out terrible things about each other which we later regret. We seek relief in blaming someone else for our situation.  Sometimes we accuse each other; other times we denounce God.  This verse begins with a declaration of faith—I believed in God despite my suffering—and concludes with an admission of loss of faith.  The Psalmist reflects on a previous experience of suffering, when pain caused him to lose faith in humanity. Yet he maintained an unshakable faith in God.  I find solace in repeating this verse as a mantra; I feel my pain begin to dissipate.  I am confident that when I look back on this difficult time, my faith in God and others will have endured.

I too am struck by the suffering Psalmist’s human declaration of faith undercut immediately by blame. For the cry of why is inevitable, the search for someone or something to blame natural, and the fear of God’s abandonment keen. From my Christian faith, I take comfort in observing that Jesus too, in his loneliest and most bitter hour, echoed another Psalm as he cried in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[1] That moment of human agony, transformed by a divine spirit of compassion and forgiveness, shows me the redemptive power of love. I can affirm that the grace of God, often working in and through the caring of others, enables us to endure and, if we are willing, to grow spiritually through suffering; to find, even amid suffering, a “peace that passes understanding.”[2]

Although the second part of the Psalmist’s statement sounds negative, I can read a more positive meaning; one that is deeper and parallel to my own belief.  He is saying that no “good” would come out of any human if it were not for the grace and mercy of God, and it is this trust in God that brought back his faith in others eventually. Personally, I take comfort in the words “for God is with those who patiently persevere,” which are repeated several times in the Quran. This notion is echoed in many of the sayings of the Prophet [Peace and Blessings be upon him], including “acknowledge God in ease and He will acknowledge you in distress.”[3]

[1] Psalms 22:1
[2] Philippians 4:7
[3] Imam an-Nawawi’s 40 Hadith, Chapter 1, No. 19


  1. What if the operative word here is "panic?" In a state of panic, we can quickly jump to the absolute, "All people are unreliable." But if we calm down and get back to the primary element of faith, we realize that need not be true. What I get from this particular text is the fact that life in all its dizzying, careening, panic-inspiring ways can pull us out into the proverbial weeds. But if we know what brings us back to center/"home base," we don't have to stay there.

  2. Corey-Jan,
    Your comment shows that you are a careful reader and interpreter of text. The word "panic" in the verse, from the root het-pay-zayin in Hebrew, can mean "haste, confusion, alarm, panic." It appears only a handful of times in the Hebrew Bible, and I found a range of synonyms in the various, existing translations that I consulted. I settled on "panic" because this word best conveyed my personal state of mind at the time I was writing my reflection on loss of faith.

    Your insight about calming down and getting back to the basics really resonates for me. Thank you for sharing it, Tziporah