Life and FaithTheology & Spirituality

Psalm 77 and the Embalming of a Dead God

“What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?” – Friedrich Nietzsche

One day, while arriving home from middle school, I walked into an uncharacteristically solemn household. Both my mother and father were home, which I thought odd because, due to their work schedules, neither typically arrived before five o’clock. There was a heaviness to the room. My parents sat me down and—with a gentle spirit—explained that my grandmother had passed away; this was my first experience with death.

At the time, I had yet to understand Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief, but looking back I now recognize how powerfully denial—Ross’ first stage of grief—beguiled my family, especially my father. It was a monster with a seemingly unyielding grip. Within the shroud of denial, the many utterances of, “I am sorry for your loss” were met with thoughts of frustration and confusion. “Loss?! My grandmother is right here! And oh, how beautiful she looks.”

Indeed, my grandmother’s funeral, though important, served (for my family, at least) as little more than a bittersweet tug-of-war between the reality of her death and the illusion of life created by the mortician through the art and science of embalming. For the unfamiliar, embalming—typically performed by morticians—is the practice of preserving human remains by treating them in order to forestall decomposition. The intention is to keep the deceased suitable for public display; to create the illusion of life for those left behind.

“What does this have to do with Christianity and God?” you ask.

Good question.

The answer?

God is dead.

For those still reading, whom among you has not experienced the sting of unanswered prayer? Whom among you, upon viewing photos of Syrian children struggling to breathe amid deadly chemical attacks, cannot help but wonder “Where is God?”? Whom among you, in the wake of a seemingly unending spree of school shootings, are overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness? Whom among you, bombarded by tragedy after tragedy, can do little more than share the cries of the Psalmist?

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long, I prayed with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help. . . Will the Lord turn away forever? Will He never show favor again? Has His loving-kindness stopped forever? Has His promise come to an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be loving and kind? Has He in anger taken away His loving-pity? Then I said, “It is my sorrow that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” (Psalm 77:1-3; 7-9)

For many (myself included), the words of the Psalmist are woefully relatable. But more than just relatable, the Psalmist is correct: the “Most High”, the Answer-To-Insoluble-Problems, the Strength-In-Human-Weakness, the God-Of-The-Gaps, the instrumental notion of the Divine—the deus ex machinahas changed. He’s died. Yet His corpse remains, beautifully embalmed by white collared morticians in holy sepulchers across the world.

Alongside the Psalmist, we cry out to this deaf Deity—an Idol forged deep within the depths of human despair and uncertainty:

“Where are you?”



Alas, silence; deafening silence



“Will you turn away forever?”
….

….
“Will you never show favor again?”



“Have you forgotten to be loving and kind?”



Silence.

This silence envelopes us. It seizes us by the wrist, stranding us on the side of the pitch-dark road of grief. We stumble to our feet. And with our first step…denial: “There must be some mistake; Surely God is all-good and all-powerful!”

Our body feels heavy. Yet, with disavowed unbelief, we hoist one leg in front of the other. Another step into the void…anger: “How can this be? Who is to blame for such darkness?!”

Two voices emerge. One appears to be calling you further into the depths and density of the void, whispering, “I AM sorry for your loss.” The other, trumpeting instant Freedom-From-Unknowing-And-Dissatisfaction if you turn back, proclaims, “Loss?! God is right here! And oh, how beautiful He looks.”

To you, the reader: When you look to God, may you not look up—as though The Sacred lives in some sky castle—but may you rather look forward, into the depths and density of the void. You will discover the darkness of this place well populated by those who cry as you have cried, lost as you have lost, and suffered as you have suffered. And within this community, may you find the God of the Cross, not as some object to love, but rather That which one meets within the act of love itself.

AJ Maynard

AJ Maynard

Anthony James Maynard is from Jacksonville, Florida. He is currently a Resident Chaplain at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina. AJ is a graduate of Liberty University and holds both a Master of Divinity and Master of Theology. He is an Army combat veteran, avid gamer, documentary geek, coffee connoisseur, and unabashed SJW. AJ is an ordained pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention.

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