Where is God
Text: psalm 13
Theme: Where is God?
Doctrine: God is ultimate court of appeal.
Image: Court room
Need: ability to cry out to God
Message: cry out to God.
Where is God?
James Blunt, a British pop singer, has a song called “Bravery” which goes like this.
“There are children standing here, arms out-stretched into the sky tears drying on their face, he has been here. Brothers lie in shallow graves, fathers lost without a trace, a nation blind to their disgrace, since he's been here. Houses burned beyond repair, smell of death is in the air, a woman weeping in despair, says he has been here. Tracer lighting up the sky, its another family's turn to die, a child afraid to even cry out says, he has been here. There are children standing here, arms outstretched into the sky, but no one asks the question “why?”, he has been here. Old men need to accept their fate, wives and daughters caught and raped, a generation drenched in hate says, he has been here. And I see no bravery, no bravery, in your eyes anymore, only sadness; only sadness.”
Where is God?
Ps 13 seems to express this same emotion. The psalmist looks around himself, and all he sees is the enemy, he looks around at all the bad things happening and says, 'he has been here.' When I read this psalm, I wonder what the writer was feeling. I wonder what the writer was experiencing. Some commentators claim that this psalm was written by David as he was running from Saul and hiding in caves, while Saul appointed men to hunt for him. The grief and anguish which is expressed in these first few verses tear at the heart strings. This would fit David's situation. Here was a man who had been appointed by God through Samuel to be the next King. He had gained the Lord's favour and was used to being treated well by God. Now, however, he is being hunted by the current king, Samuel. You can imagine him hiding deep in the back of a dark, dank cave, wondering when Saul's men might find him, drag him out and kill him. You can imagine his mind racing, wondering why this is happening to him, wondering where God was. Listen to David crying out to God.
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” This is an interesting statement for David to make. For the Israelite people for God to remember was to act. In Gen 8 God remembered Noah and the animals on the ark and made a wind blow over the earth and the waters receded. In Gen 19 God remembered Abraham and saved Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Gen 30 God remembered Rachel and gave her a son. In Ex 6 God remembered the covenant he had with Abraham Isaac and Jacob and sent Moses to save the Israelites from Egypt. In 1 Sam 1 the Lord remembered Hannah, and she gave birth to Samuel. The psalmist is crying out to God, because he does not seem to be acting.
“How long will you hide your face from me?” God's face is a sign of his favour. The blessing that God told the priests to bless Israel with is something we are familiar with. It says, “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” The psalmist does not feel God's face shining upon him. He feels as if God has turned his back on him.
David continues, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?” Or as the New American Standard Bible puts it “How long shall I take counsel in my soul?” He has tried to go to God for counsel, but God seems to be ignoring him. He tries to get counsel from himself, from his own soul, but it does not seem to be helping because he says “and everyday have sorrow in my heart.” He is not able to release the sorrow that is overwhelming him on his own, and God does not seem to be there.
David ends this set of questions with perhaps the most trying, “How long will my enemy triumph over me?” If the commentators are right, he is wondering when God will get Saul off his back. When he will be able to walk around again without looking over his shoulder. When God would come through with his promise to put him on the throne of Israel. When will the enemies of God experience defeat?
Where is God for us?
Now, we may not have physical enemies dogging our every step, people waiting around the corner and staking out our houses ready to harm us. But we do have enemies. Think about it. What, or who, is our great enemy? What is it that is constantly fighting against the work of the church in the world? What throws us down and every step and continually accuses us of failing God? It is sin, evil, and the devil. We are fighting a spiritual battle. As Paul says in Eph 6:12 "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." We are constantly pitched in battle with the spiritual forces of evil, both those entrenched in the world, and the spiritual forces which constantly seek to do us harm. We fight these forces all the time. When we pray for people we know to come to know Christ, we are fighting to free those caught in the trap of sin. When we pray for wars to cease, for famines to be ended, for poverty and sickness to be ended, we fight against the effects of sin in the world, calling for the kingdom of God to come in its fullness. When we pray that all the bad things in the world would cease, we fight against the evil forces that want them to continue. The powers of this dark world are not only limited to things outside of us. Our enemy is often our own sinful nature. We cry out to God that he would put an end to our evil desires. We ask for the strength to get rid of the sinful habits that we so enjoy. When we find ourselves once more giving in to temptation we cry out with David, “How long will my enemies triumph over me?”
The other requests of the psalmist we are more familiar with. The most common spiritual problem today is a feeling of alienation from God. With David we cry out to God, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”
I would like to tell you a bit about one lady I met last summer. Betty grew up in a broken home. Her parents did not get along and there was always tension. Her dad was an alcoholic and was extremely violent when he was drunk. When she was younger he used to beat her when he was drunk. As she grew older, he began to sexually abuse her as well. One minute he would tell her he hated her, and that she was the cause of all his problems, the next minute he would tell her he loved her and wanted to make love to her. To protect himself and keep her quiet, he told her she was worthless, that she was nothing more than dirt, that there was no one in the world who would ever believe her, love her, or accept her. Her experiences with her father set her up for disaster where men were concerned. She went from one abusive relationship to another, searching for someone who would fill the void she had in her soul. She carried these hurts in her heart for years, becoming bi-polar and having depression swings that would last for months. She ended up in Pine Rest after attempting suicide by swallowing a whole bottle of Tylenol. While she was there, her husband tells her he has had an affair and now wants a divorce. On top of all this, he will not allow her to see her children, and is planning on using her mental illness to keep them away from her. When she called him to talk to him, he blamed her for all of their problems. Once again she heard that she was worthless, that she was nothing more than dirt, that there was no one in the world who would ever believe her, love her, or accept her.
When I talked with her she felt extremely far from God. She could not feel him near her. She could not even pray, because she felt like he had turned his back on her. She used to be very devout in her faith and attended services twice a Sunday and also on Wednesdays, thinking that she had finally found what she was looking for. When things went from bad to worse in her life, she began to think that she was unlovable. That even God could not love her. She asked me, “Where is God? I thought he promised to be with me forever? Why has he abandoned me with all these problems?”
Page 3: David goes to God with an appeal
We read Psalm 13 together and she was surprised to hear David describing her own feelings of abandonment directly to God. David does not hold back. He lays it all out on the line, accusing God of things which we would probably never say. After he accuses God of abandoning him, he commands God to do something about his appeal. Look at verse three, "Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;" This may not seem like strong language, but the Hebrew is in the imperative, this is a command. David is saying, “Look it, I've had enough, I will not put up with this any longer. Look at me when I talk to you! Answer me when I ask you something!”
David calls God to do this because if he does not, then his enemy will say “I have overcome him.” If his enemy will overcome David, and David trusts in God, then his enemy will overcome God. Think about the implications. For the ancient near east, the gods had intimate contact with their people. When two nations went to war, it was as if two gods went to war with the nations. When the Philistines fought against Israel and defeated them, they took the ark of the covenant and placed it in the temple of Dagon, to symbolise that Dagon had defeated Yahweh.
What does this mean for us? Remember, our enemy is evil; our own sinful nature as well as the powers of darkness in the world. If our enemy triumphs over us, and we trust in God, then it would seem that evil could overcome God.
The psalmist is reminding God of his reputation in the world. This is how Moses appealed to God when he wanted to wipe out the Israelites after they made the golden image of a calf at the foot of Mount Sinai while Moses received the 10 commandments. Moses addresses God in Ex 32. "“O Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened." (Exodus 32:11-14, NIV)
It is evident this is what the psalmist is doing because he reminds God that he trusts in his unfailing love. The Hebrew here is notoriously hard to translate. There are certain words in every language which do not translate well and we have one of those here. The word is chesed. This word has been translated many different ways, the New King James translates it 'mercy' here. The New Revised Standard Version translates it as 'steadfast love', the New American Standard Bible prefers the old translation of 'lovingkindness'. Some scholars translate it as 'faithfulness in action'. All of these translations miss some of the meaning. The word carries a weight with it that refers to relationship. It means something like, 'being faithful to a covenant relationship'. David is reminding God of the relationship they have together, and then expresses trust that God will come through for him. He is saying, “But I have trusted in you being faithful to our covenant relationship, I will rejoice in your salvation.” He is elbowing God into action, reading between the lines you get the idea that David is saying, “I have trusted in the promises you gave (one of which is salvation), I will rejoice in your salvation (so you better start getting to work on that.”
This last section ends with a remarkable statement of faith. It seems to be a bit out of place. The psalmist has been crying out to God to do something, and then he ends by saying, "I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me." The psalmist praises God for treating him appropriately, assuming that his appeal will work. This is kind of a last nudge to God saying, “Kick it in gear, I'm waiting.”
Page 4: We can go to God with an appeal.
When I was talking about this to Betty, she said, “I get it, we can complain to God! We can tell him our problems and ask him to act.” This is absolutely correct. Most of us do not have problems like Betty, thank the Lord, but we all deal with issues in our lives which seem overwhelming. But we do not have to carry these burdens alone, and assume that God does not want to hear them. Each one of us carries something different: The table at the Easter celebration is a person short. The birthday of a son is a time for mourning, not celebration. A daughter's sweet sixteen is never reached. The fiftieth anniversary of a parent's wedding day is celebrated by only one member of the couple. A daughter is molested by her father. A brother is killed by a drunk driver. A husband watches as his wife slowly forgets everything that was ever dear to her. A wife sits by helplessly as her husband suffers an incapacitating stroke. A family watches a loved one's excruciatingly slow battle with cancer. An expectant couple has a miscarriage or a still birth. All of these things seem overwhelming. But we have the same opportunity that David does in this psalm, we can complain to God and ask him to do something about the problem.
As Christians we have been adopted as God's sons and daughters. The church is the new Israel. We are God's children, and as such we have the right to go to him and complain. How many of you parent's would like it if your kids came to you to tell you they are bullied at school, or are having a hard time in math class? All of you would, I am sure. Our Father in heaven is waiting to hear from you when you are having problems. He is standing there with his arms wide open, waiting for you to go and cry on his shoulders. He does not want you to bottle up your issues, because then he does not have an open relationship with you.
Remember the song from James Blunt, “There are children standing here, arms outstretched into the sky, but no one asks the question “why?”, he has been here. Old men need to accept their fate, wives and daughters caught and raped, a generation drenched in hate says, he has been here. And I see no bravery, no bravery, in your eyes anymore, only sadness; only sadness.” If you are filled with sadness, go to God and ask him for comfort. As Christians we do not need to be brave in our own rights. We can be brave because we have God on our side.
With David we can cry out to God.
"How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me."