Dangerous prayers: the Psalms and Bono

Posted: October 28, 2011 by J in Discipleship

Heaven on earth
We need it now
I’m sick of all of this
Hanging around
Sick of sorrow
Sick of pain
Sick of hearing again and again
That there’s gonna be
Peace on Earth

Jesus this song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat
Peace on Earth
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth?
This peace on Earth

Seems Bono is singing about the song the angels sang at Jesus’ birth – the song of hope for the future: ‘Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace”. The song Jesus turned into a prayer: ‘May your will be done on earth as in heaven.’

His point couldn’t be plainer: he is asking Jesus, where is it, this promised peace? What good is a promise if it’s never kept? If Jesus’ hasn’t brought peace on earth in 2000 years, if the misery just goes on and on, then ‘what’s it worth, this peace on earth?’

Is this a statement of unbelief – a sort of anti-prayer? Many of us would never pray in this way. Or if we did in a moment of crisis, we wouldn’t be proud of it – wouldn’t put it in the sleeve notes of our life. For us there is something quiet about faith, something trusting that is not compatible with this sort of angry, disillusioned complaint. We think of the scoffers in 2 Peter who say, where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Or the Israelites, grumbling in the wilderness, ‘Where is the food? We’re hungry now.’ Isn’t Bono supposed to be some sort of Christian?

Before we write him off completely, it’s worth noticing that the Psalms contain prayers of this ‘protest’ sort. They’re called laments. Psalm 89 is a classic example:

3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, 
I have sworn to my servant David: 
4 ‘I will establish your descendants forever, 
and build your throne for all generations.’” 
21 …my hand shall always remain with him;
my arm also shall strengthen him. 
22 The enemy shall not outwit him,
the wicked shall not humble him. 
I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
or be false to my faithfulness. 
34 …I will not violate my covenant,
or alter the word that went forth from my lips. 
35 Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David. 
38    …But now you have spurned and rejected him;
you are full of wrath against your anointed. 
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
you have defiled his crown in the dust. 

Ouch! Yhwh comes out of that one looking pretty bad. How can he allow his own faithfulness to be endangered in that way, in the Scriptures!? What does Ethan the Ezrahite hope to achieve by this sort of razor-edged confrontation with God? Can this really be a prayer of faith, suitable for the worship of Israel at the temple?

And there are others like it. Psalm 44 is possibly worse:

9    Yet you have rejected us and abased us…
12 …You have sold your people for a trifle,
demanding no high price for them.
13    You have made us the taunt of our neighbors,
the derision and scorn of those around us. 
14 You have made us a byword among the nations,
a laughingstock among the peoples. 
17    …All this has come upon us,
yet we have not forgotten you,
or been false to your covenant. 
18 Our heart has not turned back,
nor have our steps departed from your way, 
19 yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals…
23 …Wake up, LORD! Why are You sleeping?
Get up! Don’t reject us forever! 
24 Why do You hide Yourself
and forget our affliction and oppression? 

Israel has trusted Yhwh, and he? Has he been trustworthy? Seems like he’s been asleep while his people were getting smashed. The intensity of the accusation is breathtaking.

It may not be clear to us how this can be a good thing. But it is clear that there is this strong tradition of complaint and protest in the liturgy of Israel (the psalter). And much of it is directed pointedly at Yhwh himself.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

– words Jesus thought suitable to take up on his own lips as he died.

So perhaps Bono is in good company as he cries out his bitter, disillusioned complaints at Jesus.

Jesus this song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat

Perhaps the worst we could say is Bono lacks patience, with his

Heaven on Earth
We need it now
I’m sick of all of this
Hanging around

A touch of Veruca Salt? Well, maybe. But then again, perhaps it’s a touch of the exasperation of Psalm 13:

1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me? 
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
3 …answer, LORD!
I’m starting to wonder if Bono and Ethan and co. understand a thing or two that we evangelicals don’t about engaging with God. Two questions for you.

1. Do you get the feeling at all that there’s something going on here, that these people are having dealings with God that we are kind of shut out of? That there’s an intensity, a rawness and realness to the relationship that leaves us feeling a bit shocked? That makes our calm little prayers seem a bit – well, safe?

2. If so, why do you think that is? Why is it so unthinkable they we would pray like this? Why are we so out of the picture?

  1. Ben Hudson says:

    Thanks for this post.
    Psalm 88 is the one that gets me.

  2. Ben Hudson says:

    I think its the feeling that you’ve articulated in this post: are we really allowed to say that kind of thing? What would happen if we did?

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