How long, Lord God Almighty will your anger smoulder against the prayers of your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us.
Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. Psalm 80.4-7
A drinking bowl full of tears sums up many people’s experience over the last nine months. It could be a simile for the nation’s current condition. How do we handle grief in whatever form it comes? It is one of the most fundamental questions of human life. My eyes were opened to the pervasiveness of grief when a disability adviser came to speak to me about the needs of a child with severe brittle bone disease, who was wheelchair bound and had regularly broken bones for her whole life and would continue to do so. The adviser herself had a progressive condition that meant that she steadily lost function in her body and senses. She explained how every time she lost function she went through the full grief process for the loss of that ability. Loss causes grief and does not only occur following death. There are many forms of loss that have debilitating even life changing impacts.
I remember a colleague who was lively, successful in her career and physically well. She experienced a relationship breakup, the grief for the loss of her relationship brought on a severe mental illness that nearly took her life. I am pleased to say that following a long period of treatment and recuperation she not only recovered, she got her career successfully back on track and found a new permanent relationship, she also returned to her faith in Christ in a much deeper way from which she had drifted in adulthood.
Why these anecdotes? It is to illustrate how pervasive grief frequently is and also how much a relationship with the Lord, our Shepherd, is the healing balm we need. v1 Those of us who have grieved know how much we need to be restored. This is not to minimise the loss whether or not we are responsible, it is to find salvation within the loss.
The psalmist is grieving the loss of relationship the people of God are experiencing in addition to the suffering inflicted by Gentile nations. He knows the only salvation for his people is not to be found in their own power, it comes from the ‘Shepherd of Israel.’ Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth.’ v1 He has a deep longing to see the face of God. v3 He repeats this desire as a prayer to God in verse 7. In his grief he shows how we should act in ours, to seek the face of God.
In the second half of the psalm he invokes an image used elsewhere in the Old Testament of Israel as a vine. Jesus himself used this image where he spoke of God’s discipline as pruning the vine so that the branches of the vine will bear fruit when it is grafted in to the main vine, or God himself. ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ John 15.5 Unfruitful branches are consigned to the fire.
Whether or not grief is a result of the Lord’s discipline have we sought his face, that we may be saved? v7
Shine Jesus Shine.