Every September, my alma mater gets together biblical scholars, preachers and the like to talk about pretty much any topic you can think of. It once was called Lectureship; now it’s called Summit. I wrote about Summit last year, and I’d like to do the same thing this year, highlighting what stood out from each day of classes and/or sermons.
The day started with Glenn Pemberton, an Old Testament scholar who suffers from chronic foot pain that leaves him in a wheelchair most days. I’ve mentioned him before, as he wrote and delivered perhaps the most poignant, honest prayer I’ve ever heard.
Glenn discussed Psalm 38, one of the bleakest of lament psalms, and gave six clues for why he believed the author of the psalm was familiar with deep, chronic pain – most convincing are his points regarding its structural discontinuity and abrupt swings of emotion. He closed with this question: “How do these psalms help the reader with whom they resonate?”
His response: Psalm 38, like other lament psalms, “restores our ability to speak. It gives us the language to restore and maintain contact with God. These words are forceful and audacious, equal to the writer’s situation. Most of all, they’re honest.”
As I’ve discussed, there’s a place for brutal honesty with God – who either causes or allows the suffering and is seen as either a tyrant for punishing beyond what is merited or neglectful for forsaking his “covenant partner.” On the former, Glenn described it this way:
God has had a few too many drinks of anger. The poet asks God to sober up first, or find a designated rebuker until he’s not so inebriated with wrath.
But the psalm also “models a tenacious grip to God – even when we believe God has caused our suffering. God may be the problem, but this writer knows no other source of help or hope than this same God.”
When Glenn talks about God being “inebriated with wrath,” certainly no passage fits the description better than Hosea 2.
Famed scholar Walter Brueggemann provided something of a live exegesis of the chapter, which opens with God’s stinging condemnation of faithless Israel and concludes with his pledge to win her back. It is, Brueggemann argued, “the most perfect poem in the Old Testament that articulates the sum of all biblical faith.”