I saw a play once called “A Feminine Ending” by Sarah Treem. The main character is a musician with high hopes that deflate as her life begins to unravel with adversity on all sides. At the end of the play, she says, “The term ‘feminine ending’ is used when a piece of music ends in an unstressed note or a weak cadence. … I’m afraid this is a feminine ending. I’m…afraid.”
Any time a movie starts with life being rosy, I begin to feel uneasy in anticipation of what will fall apart. I much prefer when things start out rocky and the only way to go is up. I want the authenticity and depth of a story with some conflict, but I want to see that everything works out in the end. That’s what I want in life, I suppose—authenticity and depth mixed with hope. Sometimes when we are stuck in the depths of suffering, with no discernible way out, we need to know that it’s ok to not be ok and that our not being ok is not a permanent state. As believers, our feminine endings are more like painful pauses.
Psalm 89 starts out joyously. For 37 glorious verses, the psalmist praises God and recounts the covenant He made with David. Verse 1 begins optimistically:
I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever,
With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations.
He goes on to praise the Lord for His mercy, faithfulness, and strength. In verses 19-37, the psalmist relays what the Lord said in His promise to David. The Lord is quoted as saying that He has anointed David and will strengthen him and that God will conquer his enemies. Verses 30-34 express God’s promise of unconditional love:
If his sons forsake My law
And do not walk in My judgments,
If they break My statues
And do not keep My commandments,
Then I will punish their transgression with the rod,
And their iniquity with stripes.
Nevertheless, My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him,
Nor allow My faithfulness to fail.
My covenant I will not break,
Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.
The Psalm takes a sudden turn in verse 38. With the exception of a brief doxology in the last verse, the rest of the Psalm is filled with expressions of pain and despair. After the psalmist reminds the Lord of His covenant—God’s own words spoken to David—he says in verses 38-40:
But You have cast off and abhorred,
You have been furious with Your anointed.
You have renounced the convent of Your servant;
You have profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.
You have broken down all his hedges;
You have brought his strongholds to ruin.
The psalmist seems to be saying, “You promised this good thing, but it doesn’t line up with what I see happening.” These verses have a lot of “You” statements directed at the Lord. This seems like a pretty bold move, but God can handle our anger, frustration, confusion, and disappointment. Like a young child spinning out of control in the middle of a temper tantrum while the parent stands, ready to soothe the child, we can express our big feelings to God and trust that He remains steady. When we are in a pit of suffering, our circumstances seem to indicate that God is not fulfilling His promises to us. Worse than our pain is the sickening feeling that the Lord has abandoned us, which feels like a betrayal:
How long, LORD?
Will You hide Yourself forever?
Will Your wrath burn like fire?
When I was in the midst of a difficult season, I felt like I was living in a fog and couldn’t get to the Lord no matter how hard I tried. I certainly wanted to feel His presence, but most of the time, for a season, He seemed very far away. We are told in Scripture that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, that God will never leave us nor forsake us, that when we were still sinners, He loved us. These truths do not cease to be true when we can’t discern the Lord’s presence with us, but it can be painful to live in the discrepancy between what Scripture says and what we feel. To make things worse, well-meaning believers may pressure us to deny our pain in the name of trusting God, but real faith requires honesty.
My Nelson Study Bible notes that in voicing the people’s feelings of despair, the psalmist “allows the process of healing to begin, even as the people wait for deliverance from the Lord.” Before we can be healed, we must open our hearts honestly before the Lord.
Though it’s uncomfortable, I sort of love that this Psalm has no resolution because I need to know that the Bible is for real people in real life going through real pain. I need it to not read like a sitcom that resolves everything in 30 minute episodes. I need it to allow for the complexity and uncertainty that we experience in real life. There are oh-so-many stories, Psalms, and Scriptures we can turn to for hope, but sometimes it is comforting to know that we don’t have to rush to get our feelings to line up with what we know will be true, in the end.
If you are experiencing a season of pain that is unresolved, remember the Lord’s promises. Tell Him what He told you and why you’re upset. Tell Him what makes you angry or sad and why you feel betrayed. He can handle it, and He will stand by, steady and true, ready to comfort you even as you wait for the deliverance and peace that is promised to His children. And then, after you have had your say, even if you don’t feel like it, speak the words of verse 52:
Blessed be the LORD forevermore! Amen and Amen.
Though we are angry, sad, and confused, we trust that He is faithful, and we wait to see what He will do. Verse 52 is not the conclusion of this individual Psalm only, but of Book III of the Psalms. When we are living in pain, we are in but one piece of a bigger story, to which the conclusion will be our hearts singing His praises, over and over again, as we experience His glorious deliverance.