Psalm 13 – How Long, O Lord?

The Scream by Edvard Munch
“The Scream” by Edvard Munch, 1893.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I make decisions alone
with sorrow in my heart day after day?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look at me! Answer me, O Lord my God!
Light up my eyes,
or else I will die
and my enemy will say, “I have overpowered him.”
My opponents will rejoice because I have been shaken.

But I trust your mercy.
My heart finds joy in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord because he has been good to me. (GW)

Faith is more than the mind’s affirmation of theological beliefs. Faith is also visceral, an expression from deep in the gut about what is going on around us. For faith to be truly faith it needs to hold the whole person, not merely the brain.

Today’s psalm is the reaction of a person of faith to God when the world as they knew it was crumbling and broken. This is a psalm of lament which moves and deepens the faith of the worshiper.

When the world around us changes and all seems horribly awry, we understandably become disoriented – we lose our normal bearings and feel confused and lost.

One of the simplest observations we can make about this psalm, along with all psalms of lament, is that, whether the content is ethically pure or not, the words of the psalmist directed toward God reflect the pain and agony of  people in the middle of world-shattering circumstances. In such dire situations, there are no simplistic answers or easy diagnoses of problems. Complicated layers of grief exist, and mere cerebral responses will always fall short of adequately being in the present moment, sitting with emotions, and getting in touch with the gut.

I am leery of folks who quickly affirm trust in God when a terrible event has just occurred. Bypassing the gut and the heart cannot bring a whole person response to that event and will inevitably result in a cheap faith which cannot support the immensity of the situation. Even worse, it leads to a bootstrap theology where people are expected to pull themselves up in a free-willpower way that is impossible to even do. Sometimes failure of faith comes not because of a person’s weakness but because the faith being espoused is not faith, at all.

Biblical faith expresses weakness, need, help, curiosity, and doubt with a healthy dose of emotional flavor and visceral reaction.

If we had just one psalm of lament as an example, that would be enough. In fact, we have dozens of them, with more sprinkled throughout Holy Scripture. We even have an entire book of the Bible, Lamentations, a deep reflection of the prophet Jeremiah’s grief.

So, let us now be honest with ourselves and each other. All of us, at one time or another, have given a cry of “How long, O Lord!” There are times when our prayers seem unheard and unnoticed, as if they only bounce off the ceiling and fall flat. There are hard circumstances which continue to move along unabated with evil seeming to mock us. We long for divine intervention, we long for deliverance, we long for healing – and when it does not come our disappointment and frustration boils over into an unmitigated cry of wondering where God is in all the damned thick crud.

When a person and/or a group of people are traumatized not once but over-and-over again, how can we not cry aloud, “How long, O Lord!?” When despair settles in the spirit, disappointment seeps in the soul, and depression becomes our daily bread, how can we not muster up the voice that yells, “How long, O Lord!?” When powerful people cause the lives of others to be downtrodden and despised, how can we not scream, “How long, O Lord!?” When the covert actions of others demean and denigrate, leaving us with private pain which no one sees, how can we not bring forth the words, “How long, O Lord!?” If you have never uttered this kind of wondering about God, then perhaps a profound disconnect with your own spirit exists.

A full orb faith names the awful events and sits with the feelings surrounding those events with God.

Psalm 13 is important because it gives us words when the bottom falls out of our lives and everything is upside-down. This psalm helps us admit that life is not as well-ordered as a simple Sunday School faith may pretend. The psalm acknowledges that life is terribly messy, and the psalmist protests to heaven that this quagmire of injustice is plain unfair. What is more, this psalm helps move the sufferer to a new place.

God is big enough to handle everything we throw at him — our pain, our anger, our questions, our doubts. Genuine biblical faith is comfortable challenging God. And God is there, listening, even if we cannot perceive it. Just because we might need to endure adversity does not mean there is something wrong with us, or God.

We likely will not get an answer to our “how long?” We will get something else: mercy. Mercy is compassion shown to another when it is within one’s power to punish. If we widen our horizon a bit, we will observe a God who cares:

“The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.” (2 Peter 3:9, CEB)

The only thing better than the joy of personal salvation is the joy of many people’s deliverance and collective emancipation. Patience, perseverance, and endurance through hardship will require expressions of faith with words of affirmation, along with words of agony. The psalms help us with both.

Lord God Almighty, I pray for the forgotten and the unseen – the stranger, the outcast, the poor and homeless – may they be remembered and seen by you.

Merciful God, I pray for those who struggle with mental illness, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation – may there be resources to help, enough staff employed, and finances given, toward mental health services. May there be basic human kindness available for the hurting.

Compassionate God, I pray for those who wrestle with sorrow – may they know your comfort within the dark thoughts which currently seem to triumph.

Attentive Lord, I pray for the crestfallen and the ones considered fallen by those around them – may they receive your restoration and reconciling grace. Protect them from judgment and shield them with your mercy.

Lord of all creation, I trust in your steadfast love and rely upon your infinite grace. May our tears turn to songs of joy, to the glory of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Numbers 21:4-9 – Being Impatient

grumbling

“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’  Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.” (NRSV)

Impatience.  Grumbling.  They go together like a hand in a glove.  The impatient person sticks his hand in the glove of complaints, voicing and animating his missed expectations for all to hear and see.

The ancient Israelites had been delivered with the miraculous and mighty hand of God.  But the celebration soon turned sour.  Out in the desert with millions of people, the Israelites had no food or water.  We have no account of the people reflexively using their spiritual connection with God to ask him for help.  Nope.  They just grumbled against God and his servant Moses.

God had enough of their constant complaints.  He had shown mercy and committed love to them over-and-over again.  Yet, the people still put on their grumpy faces any time something didn’t go their way.  God kept showing patience toward the people, but the people kept demonstrating impatience toward God.

If you stop and think about the pathology of your impatience and complaining (which we all do – come on, admit it) you’ll likely discover that at the heart of it all is a picture in your mind of how you think circumstances ought to go for you to be happy.  The Israelites expected a nice clean break from Egypt with a smooth transition into the Promised Land.  They didn’t sign up for hard circumstances and trouble to get there.

You go to church expecting to be fed and encouraged.  You expect that school will be enjoyable and that you’ll get a good paying job when you graduate.  You expect to go to work and have healthy working relationships and a good boss.  You expect your kids to listen to what you say and do what you tell them.  You expect your spouse to give you focused attention.  You expect the weather to be better.  You expect the little plastic things on the end of your shoelaces to last for the life of your shoes….

You get the picture.  No matter what scenario we posit, its more than likely it isn’t going to go as planned or expected.  The rub comes when those expectations aren’t realized.  Then, what?  In a perfect world we would always respond in a reasoned, wise, and healthy manner.  But if we’re feeling like we’re in an emotional place of insecurity out in the desert, our response is more likely going to be impatience, grumbling, and complaining about things which aren’t going as planned.

A great deal of disobedience, bad behavior and speech, and poor decision-making has its beginnings in impatience.  The minute you become impatient, take a long deep breath before you make your next mental decision.  Check-in with yourself.  Be mindful of what your real expectations are for the circumstance or person in the present moment of becoming upset.  Make the decision not to complain or argue.  Instead, choose to say what you want without grumbling.

It is truly possible to stand for holiness, live for righteousness, and uphold the words and ways of Jesus without being a jerk about it through impatient sighs, annoying facial expressions, and terse words of carping and criticizing another person made in God’s image.

Monitor yourself throughout the day today.  Notice the times you become annoyed.  Stop and take a minute to analyze what it is you are expecting.  Instead of grumbling, ask God how he wants to strengthen your faith through the situation or encounter.  Because God is there to help you, not to pick on you.

Holy God, your patience is incredible in the face of human impatience.  Yet, your boundaries are firm, and you will not put up with our petulant ways forever.  Help me to live into the model of your Son, the Lord Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit are attentive to come alongside me to your own glory and honor.  Amen.

2 Peter 3:8-13

            Sometimes, from our puny human perspective on things, it seems as if God is doing nothing.  Evil consumes the world in all kinds of insidious forms:  human trafficking and the sex slave trade; corrupt governments with no concern for the welfare of its nation’s citizens; oppressive regimes that rule on the backs of the poor; terrorism with no regard to innocent life; Christians displaced from their homes and martyred for their faith; human rights violations in all kinds of sweat shops and dangerous working conditions – and that is just to name a few – not to mention what we personally might be facing in the hard circumstances of life.  We might wonder why God seems so silent in the face of such injustice.
 
            It is into such concerns that the Apostle Peter wrote to a group of struggling believers in Jesus who could not rectify their present difficult situation with the promise of God to act justly.  In fact, Jesus was supposed to return and make everything right.  Where is he?!  Peter’s response:  “Dear friends, don’t forget that for the Lord one day is the same as a thousand years, and a thousand years is the same as one day.  The Lord isn’t slow in keeping his promises, as some people think he is.  God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.”
 
            The seeming inactivity of God is really him showing patience and forbearance, graciously and carefully reaching out in the darkness so that more and more people can be saved from their empty ways of life before it is too late.  Where, from our angle it seems like a lack of concern, from God’s perspective is a show of incredible grace.  The Lord will return.  Until then, we are participate with him in showing grace and love to those who need the light of Christ, even if it means we must endure some of the evil muck of this world.
 

 

            Patient God, you show steadfast love even when I am slow to recognize it.  Enable me to be patient and endure to the end.  Bring more and more people under your benevolent rule, and reach the unreachable with your massive mercy, through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

2 Chronicles 36:11-21

            There are parts of the Bible’s Old Testament that are just plain sad.  Perhaps the most pitiful commentary of all is that God’s people acted like a spouse who was so distant and dissatisfied that they did not know how good they had it.  So, they looked for relationships with other gods, other lovers.  Despite God’s furious and longing love for his people, they spurned his advances and his appeals.  Judah’s King Zedekiah “did what was evil… He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD… He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD.”  What is more, Judah’s leadership was “exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations.”
 
            God was patient, he was persistent, and he was long on love for his people.  “The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place.”  Finally, after centuries of chronic neglect of God and active pursuit of idolatry, Judah reached the point of no return, and they lost it all.  Yet, even in this abject stubbornness and lack of love from Judah, God had compassion and did not forget.  The Chronicles end with a note of grace, letting the reader know that God’s mercy always has the last word. 
 
            God’s wrath is the servant of God’s love.  His punishes so that he can pursue; levels natural consequences so that he can meet needs; and, rebukes so that he might bring rest.  The end game for God is always restoration, renewal, and revitalization – a reviving of relationship between himself and his people.  This ought always to be our purpose, as well, to persistently, patiently, and lovingly pursue lost people because God rescued us from the dominion of darkness and has brought us into the life of his Son, the Lord Jesus.
 

 

            Merciful God, your anger flares but lasts only a moment.  Yet, your love is eternal and everlasting.  Thank you for sniffing me out and saving me by your amazing grace.  May I demonstrate the love you have shown to me toward others, so that your purposes are accomplished in my life today and always through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.