The Promise of Frustration

This was written for the Center for Congregational Ethics is based on Psalm 146 from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, for March 22, 2023. 

As God was walking the couple out the Garden gate, God promised a lifetime of thorns and thistles, pain and sweat. Or as we politely call them today, frustrations. In my theology, the promise of frustration is another form of God’s justice. Sin hurts. 

I had seen it done in countless movies and TV shows all my life, but I had never done it. Looking through the shop window, I suddenly realized I wanted to have a barber give me a shave – in the old barber chair, all lathered up, with the old-fashioned straight razor. I had not shaved that morning. The whole process took about 30 minutes. It was a very good shave. When we were finishing up, I asked the barber what he might have learned from shaving my beard. He said my skin was sensitive and he graciously gave me some after-shave oils to try. Then he pointed to the places that were hardest for him to shave and said that this is where I needed to be very careful. I knew those things: the sensitive places will always be sensitive, and the hardest places will always be the most difficult. For me the promise of frustration includes knowing I am tempted with the same temptations, frustrated by the same frustrations, and will face the same conflicts again and again. 

The Psalmist sings the Hallelujahs as he reflects upon the steadfastness of God compared to the religiously political around him.  Our frustrations are not solved by princes or politicians. Justice is not found in a bigger sword or a better budget. But in a people who can sing Hallelujah, praise the Lord, to the God of Jacob, our God, whose trustworthiness is unwavering. Some elevate their frustrations to angry outbursts and manipulative bullying. Others grow hard and cold, vowing vengeance or retribution. Most will work to move past their frustrations, making the best of things. Unless countered by such trust in God, our frustrations can turn inward and lead to a depressing sense of hopelessness.

This Psalm proclaims: our Creator is always faithful and trustworthy, advocating for the oppressed; providing for the hungry; liberating the captive; illuminating the blind; lifting the heavy burdened; loving righteousness; protecting the outsider; sustaining the vulnerable—but frustrating the ways of the wicked.  This is the promise: Justice through frustration.  Our world is broken. Our traditions, systems and structures are fracturing. Constant wars, political upheavals, and disasters are overwhelming, yet, hallelujah, there is—justice. Trust in the Lord will not be frustrated.  

I still must shave most days. 

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