I love the Psalms, but they kind of freak me out. They’re shockingly honest about what life following the Lord is really like–and not every day is a Friday. Sometimes it seems like everyone’s got a perpetual case of the Mondays.
Psalm 10 is like this, right from the opening verse, opening with the question no one wants to admit they ask:
Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)
But we all ask it, don’t we? Somewhere along the way, we’re all going to have a moment where we’ll be asking, “God, where are you? What’s going on here? Why is this world a giant mess and you don’t seem to be doing anything about it?”
Many of us shy away from admitting it, simply because we’ve been told not that that’s not what faithful Christians say. But in the Psalms and in the prophets, we keep seeing the authors of Scripture asking this sort of question.
In Psalm 55, David the great king of Israel, the man the Bible calls the man after God’s own heart, cried out, “Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!”
Habbakuk’s book opens with these words:
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Jeremiah, likewise, experienced so much turmoil in his ministry that he even went so far as to suggest that God had tricked him! (Jeremiah 20:7).
But those are not the only places we see it: Psalm 44:24, Psalm 88:14, Psalm 89:46… Over and over and over again, God’s people keep asking this question when they are so overwhelmed in the midst of trials and suffering, when they are overcome by unrelenting injustice: Where are you, God?
So what do we do with this?
There is faith in asking
Now, one of the things Christians really struggle with is being honest about the difficulties we face. We seem to have bought into this idea that if we don’t understand what God is doing, or opening up about what’s going on and how we’re feeling—to say that it feels like God is absent from our lives—that we’re denying him. We’re abandoning the faith or on the road to apostasy.
And to be perfectly clear, there is a kind of questioning God that is absolutely rooted in unbelief. It is presumptuous. And it is arrogant. When we do this, we’re really just trying to placate ourselves as if to say, “Well, God isn’t paying attention anyway, so I’ll just go do what I want.”
But what we need to recognize is that the author of Psalm 10 is not asking out of unbelief, any more than David, Habbakuk or Jeremiah did. He’s not looking for an out. He’s at the end of his rope. He knows what God has said about justice and mercy and compassion, and he knows the commands of God—that he is to love the Lord with all of his heart and to love his neighbor as himself—but he looks around and sees something other than that. He asks because in all of it, he feels the apparent absence of God, and for the person for whom the presence of the Lord is their greatest and all-consuming joy, that is a terrifying thing.
His question is an act of faith, and it can be one for us, too.
This is something I’ve had to learn and relearn numerous times over the last few years. When we lost a baby—and Emily nearly lost her life—during a difficult miscarriage in 2009, it was hard to understand what God was doing there, despite some of the good we saw from it. When Emily developed epilepsy three years ago, neither of us jumped for joy because we had a new opportunity to glorify God in our circumstances. When I was in a place where every single night I would come home from work begging and pleading for it to be okay for me to go in the next day and resign, and the answer was always no, I didn’t just shrug my shoulders and say, “Well, the Lord’s will be done.”
Life doesn’t work that way, and it’s okay to admit it.
But the point of asking the question isn’t to allow us to wallow in our despair. We ask not out of unbelief, but to help our unbelief. We ask because we need to be reminded, as the author of Psalm 10 did, of the sovereignty of God. He asked because he needed to remind himself that God would indeed act, that justice would be done.
The Lord is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:16-18)
He gives thanks to the Lord, who is king forever and ever—Jesus, the Son of God, the heir to the throne of David, the One through whom and for whom all things exist. The one who even now holds all the universe together and has promised that a day is coming when justice will be fully and finally served. Sin and sadness and death will be no more. There will be no more tyranny or tears. The fatherless and oppressed will rejoice and be strengthened. No man will strike terror ever again. Evil will perish. All the accounting will be done.
That’s what we all need, isn’t it? And the good news is, when we see the injustices in this world that seem to go unmet, we can have hope. No matter how frustrating things are, we need not despair. No matter what circumstances we face, we need not believe God has abandoned us. We need to remind ourselves of this, even as we plead with him to act and call on him to help the humble and oppressed. His is here. He is with us. He is good. And he is faithful to answer your call. He will do justice and man will strike terror no more.
So don’t think asking is an act of unbelief—there is faith in asking.