How long, O God, will you allow our enemies to insult you?
Will you let them dishonor your name forever?
Psalm 74:10 (NLT)
The lyrics of this song of Asaph were written during a period of history when his country had been besieged and destroyed. The prophet Jeremiah is commonly attributed to have described the conditions of the same event in his own lyric poem we now know as Lamentations. The city of Jerusalem and Solomon’s wondrous temple were destroyed. Women and children were slaughtered. Many were enslaved (like Daniel) and taken back to Babylon. Those unfortunate few who were left in the desolation of the city were literally starving. The rich bartered their family treasures and heirlooms for a loaf of bread. The poor who had no other means were reduced to cannibalism. It was not a pretty sight.
Tragic circumstances and events are part of living in a fallen world. The news of late has been of tornadoes that killed small children when an elementary school was hit, of religious zealots publicly hacking a man to death on the street, and unspeakable horrors inflicted on human beings on both sides of armed conflict in Syria and in multiple conflicts in Africa. I listen to those who argue that the human condition is continuing to evolve and get better, who believe that there is increasing good in mankind. Then I read the world headlines and find continuous evidence that humanity, despite technological and societal advances is (as the Talking Heads put it) “the same as it ever was.”
We could debate this question over a pint or two. The truth remains that we will all face various levels of tragedy in our respective life journeys. We all have questions for God. There is something in us, as children made in the likeness of our Creator, to express ourselves creatively and metaphorically. Asaph and Jeremiah picked up their styluses and wrote songs and poems to try and express the unanswerable questions that plagued their souls at the incomprehensible horrors they witnessed. Art, in all of its many forms, heals.
Today I am reminded that creative expression is a prescription for my spiritual and mental health. I will experience and witness tragedy. The question is not “Will it happen?” but “What will I do with it when it happens?” I can stuff it and cover it over until it begins to eat me away from the inside out in unhealthy ways, or I can get my questions and emotions out into the light of day where they can be acknowledged and lose their destructive power. Asaph wrote a blues song. Jeremiah wrote a lyric poem. Edward Munch painted “The Scream.” Eugene O’Neill wrote the play A Long Day’s Journey into Night. These are examples most everyone knows. But most expressions are not public expressions. I myself have written pages and pages of words and lyric thoughts no one will ever read. They are not for public consumption. But, I wrote them. I wrote them to get out my questions, to make my case, to express my anger, sadness, doubts, pain, frustration, hopelessness, and to scream at God. I transmitted them from my mind and soul through my pen and onto the page.
What have you done with your own tragedies?