20. God Asleep?

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.20

Psa 44:23 Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

When someone is asleep they are either working off their tiredness or they are just at peace with the world. In respect of the first aspect, Isaiah gives us an answer as far as God is concerned. He answered the Jews who were complaining, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God” (Isa 40:27) by saying, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” (Isa 40:28). Their complaint was, ‘God doesn’t seem to be paying any attention to our plight; He must be worn out.’ to which Isaiah basically replies, ‘Don’t be silly. God doesn’t get tired.’ So if He doesn’t get tired, if He seems to be sleeping, it must be that He’s at peace with the world and if He’s at peace with the world, why can’t He see our plight? Or, to reverse it, if He can’t see our plight, he must be asleep! However one of the psalmists declared, “He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psa 121:3,4) In other words God doesn’t need sleep. He is always awake, always alert, and always sees what is happening.

Now the same wasn’t true when He came in the form of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus did, having a human body, need to rest, and did need to sleep. In fact the most notorious time when he slept provoked an almost identical response to here: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?(Mk 4:37,38) What they were saying essentially was, ‘Lord why are you sleeping? Aren’t you aware of our plight? How can you sleep when we’re about to die?’ They expected Jesus to be DOING something in the face of the plight that was facing them.

While we are meditating on this aspect of the Lord, it is also interesting to note how Elijah made fun of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He had made this challenge that they would make an altar, put meat on it and then call upon the one they worshipped to come and devour it. The prophets of Baal jumped up and down, screamed and shouted and even took to cutting themselves, to try to get their ‘god’ to turn up. Eventually Elijah jeered at them, “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” He was putting Baal on the same footing as we now see the Greek and Roman gods – very human in their activities, even falling asleep and needing to be roused. Oh no, our God is not like that! Whatever the plight we find ourselves in, He knows about it!

Now that is the commonality of the Old Testament cry and the New Testament cry, the word we have used several times, ‘plight’, which indicates they were in a threatening predicament. We’re quite happy that God doesn’t seem to be paying attention until suddenly we find ourselves in a predicament where we expect God to help.

Now that is quite interesting. It is something we perhaps take for granted. We assume God is there to help us. Even the unbeliever who faces a life-threatening situation cries out to God for help. There is this implicit assumption that God is sufficiently concerned and sufficiently powerful that He can and will do something about it. Because it is such an obvious thing, we perhaps need to examine this. Why do we have this feeling that if we cry out to God He will help? Is it something about being made in the image of God, that deep down we have this affinity with God which most of the time we ignore, but which, in times of crisis, rises to the surface? Is it that those of us who have read of God’s activities in the Old Testament assume that He will turn up for us in the same way that He turned up for so many people in that time? Or have the wonders of the possibilities of life with Jesus so impacted us that we have come to realize that God truly is for us. Whatever it is, when things go wrong we expect God to turn up for us, and if He doesn’t seem to be doing that we cry out with a variety of cries. This latest one is, essentially, “Lord, have you gone asleep?” because that’s what it seems like.

But the truth, as we’ve already noted, is that God never sleeps. If He is not acting on our behalf it is, as we’ve said a number of times in these meditations, that He has an agenda which He is working to and for whatever reason it requires Him to pause and wait before He acts. Jesus in the boat was completely at peace in the knowledge that His heavenly Father would keep watch over him, AND when it came to it, he himself had the power to deal with the storm. The psalmist had the sense that the Lord’s hesitancy in acting was because He had stood back from Israel‘s apostasy and was leaving them to the world. Thus he cried, Do not reject us forever. He had the awareness that because of their apostasy the Lord was rejecting them, but his cry was, don’t let it be forever. Implied within that is the awareness that they did deserve discipline, but not that it would involve Israel‘s utter destruction so that they would be lost for ever.

We need to be aware that the Lord does discipline us, those of us who are Christians, who call ourselves God’s children: “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:6). If the Lord sees we are wilfully sinning, because He loves us, He will take action to stop us from going down that path. That discipline may be painful, but it isn’t eternal. If that is what is happening and the Lord isn’t seeming to act, He’s just allowing you to weather that time, learn from it, and change. It isn’t eternal rejection. It’s just your loving heavenly Father standing back while you take your medicine. Sounds tough? Well who said it was all right to carry on sinning? Go that way and that’s what you can expect. The simple answer is stay off the path of sin!

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