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The Posture of "...and yet"

Aaron White

April 21, 2020

Psalm 91:9-16

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”

    and you make the Most High your dwelling,

no harm will overtake you,

    no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you

    to guard you in all your ways; 

they will lift you up in their hands,

    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 

You will tread on the lion and the cobra;

    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;

    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 

He will call on me, and I will answer him;

    I will be with him in trouble,

    I will deliver him and honour him. 

With long life I will satisfy him

    and show him my salvation.

Many of us in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and around the world have been praying this Psalm out daily since the Covid-19 pandemic began. It is a good and necessary Psalm, one that promises the hope of health, safety and provision.

This is a type of Psalm which Walter Brueggemann calls “Psalms of Orientation.” They orient us towards how life could be and should be, how those who put their trust in the LORD can be protected and live long, fruitful lives. I like this kind of Psalm. I need it too, to keep my eyes focused on things that are good, noble and pure. We should be praying it out boldly, particularly over the hundreds of millions of people who cannot rely on hospitals or modern medicine to save them in this crisis. Part of my regular daily prayer is asking God to keep this plague far from the tents outside Jacob’s Well; far from the tent village in Oppenheimer Park; and far from the tents of forcibly displaced people like the 855,000 Rohingya in a refugee settlement in Bangladesh.

However, it is important that we understand that Psalms of Orientation are not the only kind of Psalm. We live “in between the times” of Jesus’ resurrection and his promised resolution of all things in glory. Within this period of waiting we have to be honest that pain and sorrow are still very present amongst us. Life cannot be wholly described yet by the words of Psalm 37:25:

I was young and now I am old,    yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken    or their children begging bread.

Well, we have. In our own neighbourhood we encounter good people who feel unprotected and at risk. We see neighbours and friends struggling to find support, connection, health and food during a time when everything is shut down or limited.  


One of the things we must learn to do in these circumstances is lament. Lament means to cry and pray to the Lord, to shout out “this isn’t right!” and to ask him to fix it. Doing this isn’t blasphemous, though it feels a little bold for our pious tastes. It is in fact an essential element of faith.


We know this because the majority of the Psalms are brutally honest about the pain and frustration of life. These are the Psalms that Brueggemann calls “Psalms of Disorientation.” They mess up the ordered universe presented in Psalms 91, 37, and others. In these Psalms it is admitted that the faithful are not always protected; good people go hungry; the righteous suffer; the wicked prosper; and sometimes (far too often) plague and sword devour the people and produce of the land. 

These Psalms acknowledge that things are not always - not even frequently - as they ought to be. They speak openly of sorrow, anger, fear and disappointment. They see the world as it is, not as it could be. This is a vitally important posture for prayer, for mission, and for life. Karl Marx famously critiqued religion as the Opiate of the masses, meaning it was an escape or false comfort that prevented people from experiencing the real pain of the world and doing something about it. The Psalms of Disorientation reveal to us that faith was never meant to be escapism. Quite the opposite. Faith is meant to be that strength which allows us to face reality in all its raw truth, to acknowledge our pain and let it pass through us and be transformed into perseverance and hope.


Psalm 6 is one of these honest laments: 

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;

    heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. 

My soul is in deep anguish.

    How long, Lord, how long?


I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping

    and drench my couch with tears. 

My eyes grow weak with sorrow;

    they fail because of all my foes.

These kinds of Psalms don’t show up a lot in our modern worship sets, but they run all through the prayer book of Israel, the prayer book of Jesus. I don’t always like this kind of Psalm. But I need them, to remind me that God is not unaware of sorrow. And, strangely, to find comfort when life does not go as planned. 

Yet, importantly, there is another type of Psalm on the other side of Disorientation. These are the Psalms of Reorientation. These Psalms admit that life is not how it ought to be - daughters get sick; political stability collapses; persecutions run rampant; trouble and sorrow is all around. They see all these things, name them and lament them. But then they say… “and yet.” 

“And yet” may be the most important words in the Psalms. You see this phrase or its equivalent weaving through almost all of the most heart-rending Psalms of lament. Psalm 22, for instance, opens with the devastating words that Jesus quotes from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” And the Psalm continues in its litany of pain and frustration. But this lament is repeatedly counter-balanced with “and yet”: 

“Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One…In you our ancestors put their trust…Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust you…But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength…he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help…The poor will eat and be satisfied.”

This excruciating tension of lament and “and yet” exists throughout the Psalms, and the presence of the Lord is found right in the midst of it. We don’t have permission to wallow in misery or brokenness, but nor are we given license to pretend that pain and wounding don’t exist. This tension continues into the New Testament. Jesus blessed those who mourn - for they will be comforted. He blessed the persecuted - for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. He said that in this world you will have trouble - but take heart for I have overcome the world. From the cross he cries out abandonment, forgiveness, and completion (“It is finished!”)


Paul said: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Paul also affirmed that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us, glory that the whole of creation is eagerly longing and groaning to see.

So where do we stand? We pray, boldly, asking God to intervene for the vulnerable as in Psalm 91. We lament, honestly, weeping on our beds for the pain of the world as in Psalm 6. And we hope, faithfully, that as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we would learn to fear no evil, because even though we are in the presence of enemies the “and yet” of the Lord reveals a banquet table where we may eat in peace.

About the Author:

Aaron White serves as the Resident Theologian at Jacob’s Well. He is the National Director of 24-7 Prayer Canada. He has been a pastor, missioner, justice worker and prayer instigator in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver for the past 16 years, where he lives with his wife and four children in a community home. He is the co-author of “Revolution and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Kingdom of God”; co-creator of The Creative Way Down discipleship resource; and author of the upcoming book “Recovering: From Brokenness and Addiction to Blessedness and Community.”

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