Reading Psalms in Times of Grief

 

By Rev John T. Schwiebert, ThM
john@metanoiaumc.org

 

 

Sometimes, when I am painfully aware that there is nothing I can say or do that will take away the pain of another person’s grief, I direct the bereaved person to the Psalms in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

I suggest reading through the Psalms, particularly the ones that address grief, because the writers of this beautiful collection of poetry know how to lament honestly, without holding back feelings of anger, frustration, pain, and even honest doubts about the goodness of God.  As one grieving person put it, “I sense that the writer of the Psalms, unlike some of my friends, has some understanding of the pain I am going through, and how even the faith I thought I had has been shattered by my experience of loss.

Take Psalm 42 for instance. Read it aloud slowly several times and see how it connects with your own experience of loss.  Below I offer some questions to help stimulate your reflection, if you need them.  But first try reading it on your own.  I suspect that you will find your own points of connection by engaging the psalm directly, without any help!

I would love to hear about your experience with this Psalm.  john@tearsoup.com

 

Psalm 42

 

1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,
            so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
            for the living God.
   When shall I come and behold
            the face of God?
My tears have been my food
            day and night,
   while people say to me continually
            “Where is your God?”

  

These things I remember
            as I pour out my soul:
   how I went with the throng,
            and led them in procession to the house of God,
   with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
            a multitude keeping the festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
            and why are you disquieted within me?
   Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
            my help 6 and my God.

 

   My soul is cast down within me;
            therefore I remember you
   from the land of Jordan and of Hermon
            from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
            at the thunder of your cataracts;
   all your waves and your billows
            have gone over me.
8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
            and at night his song is with me,
            a prayer to the God of my life.

 

9 I say to God, my rock,
            “Why have you forgotten me?
   Why must I walk about mournfully
            because the enemy oppresses me?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my body,
            my adversaries taunt me,
    while they way to me continually,
            “Where is your God?”

 

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
            and why are you disquieted within me?
     Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
            my help and my God,

           

 

 

  1. What words, phrases, or thoughts in this psalm do you instantly connect with?  Why?  In what ways is your own experience like that of the psalmist.

  2. Have you felt close to God in the past (vs. 4), but now feel disconnected from God (vss. 1-2) because of your loss (vs. 3a)?

  3. Have you felt abandoned by God because of your loss, and perhaps even verbally accused God of forgetting you (vs. 9a)?

  4. Have you sometimes felt like the “walking wounded” (vss. 9b-10), with inner voices (“adversaries”) articulating your doubts about God?

  5. Why does the psalmist repeat the words of verse 5 in verse 11?  Is this perhaps a way of doubting ones doubts?

  6. Can you paraphrase this psalm, putting in your own words what you think the psalm says?