10. Abandoned?

Meditations in Psalms : 10 : Abandoned?  – Psa 13

Psa 13:1   How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

Listening to and watching the Christian community, I am saddened by the sense of unreality that seems to pervade so many lives. The perceived and required mentality that seems to be taught in some churches is that we are always triumphant and we never struggle with life – we are victorious over-comers. Now as much as I agree with those two descriptions, there are some areas that they apply to but often life is not like that. The person who denies they ever sense that God is in another universe is either deluded or simply unaware of spiritual realities full stop!

Where there is honesty, there will be many people who feel as David feels in this psalm, and it is not wrong to feel this! The reality is that we lead a life of faith and that means we cannot see God and sometimes people or circumstances seem to blot out the sense of his presence (we’ll see much more of this in Psa 22). The disciples living their lives alongside Jesus often misunderstood and got it wrong in their understanding, so we shouldn’t be surprised (and God isn’t!) when we get it wrong. When Jesus hung on the Cross and took on himself the sins of the world, he cried out with a sense that God had left him. Now I am sure that didn’t happen, but just from Jesus’ human perspective at that moment, that was how it seemed. And that is how it seems to David at this moment: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”  He has this feeling that he has been abandoned by the Lord. It’s the same sort of thing that Job felt.

But what was going on in him to make him feel like this? “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (v.2)  David, like most of us, is a thinker and his thoughts go round and round and round. Where is God? Why hasn’t he turned up for me? Have I done something wrong? Has He left me? When the sense of the all-glorious being that is God gets clouded by people or circumstances these are the thoughts that will go through our minds. Now whether the ‘enemy’ is Satan or a physical human being is not clear, but someone or something is pressing in on him, stressing him, and causing him anguish and his mind struggles to understand what is going on.

Habakkuk is another good example of someone who struggled to understand what was going on. Listen to his cry: “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Hab 1:2) That’s what it seemed to him, and so he starts reasoning, even though the Lord has told him what is happening: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” (Hab 1:13a)  He’s just been told that God is going to use the enemy to purge Israel, but the enemy are godless and unrighteous. It just doesn’t fit his theology. He continues, “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab 1:13b) He hadn’t reached the point of understanding that the Lord does use the ungodly to sometimes chastise the godly. If you want another person who didn’t understand what was happening read about Gideon (Jud 6:13).

Sometimes we don’t understand the big picture, we don’t see what God is doing in our circumstances and thus we cry out with David, “Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death.” (v.3) We even feel that unless the Lord turns up and gives us answers, our very lives are threatened (spiritual if not physical!). How can we survive, we feel, if this continues like this? The only outcome we can see is the enemy triumphing: “my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.” (v.4)

There it is, we’ve come to the end of our resources it seems. We don’t understand it all – and we have tried!  But then, there in the dark, we sense something and contrary to all understanding and expectations we find ourselves declaring, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” (v.5) Suddenly we find there was something else there we hadn’t realised was there, a glimmer of grace, that sureness that despite everything, God IS the God of love (1 Jn 4:8) and He will bring my salvation, and despite all else that the enemy can throw at us, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.” (v.6)  It may be rubbish at the moment, but the Spirit reminds me that the past has been good, and it’s all of the Lord.

In this light, I love the closing words of Psalm 92: “The righteous ….will still bear fruit in old age ….proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15)  They may be limited in many other ways, but the older Christian can still testify to this truth.

Habakkuk broke through to the place where he could write: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17,18)  You don’t get to that point of complete assurance in God until you’ve been through the place where you first cry out, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?   Only after that do we find that grace is there in the sludge at the bottom of the barrel, and grace declares the truth: God IS there, and God IS working out His purposes and God still IS a God of love and does all things well for me. Amen? Amen!

37. Silence

God in the Psalms No.37 – God of Silence

Psa 22:2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer

In the 15th meditation we considered ‘The God who hides’ and the idea and effect is very similar to this verse, but it is sufficiently important that it needs looking at again. The truth is that there are times when we cry out to the Lord and He seems to remain silent, He seems to ignore our cries. Why would a God of love do this?  This psalm is considered a prophetic psalm reflecting Jesus’ anguish on the Cross. This psalm is the cry of the Saviour heard as “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mt 27:46)

Probably the classic example of silence from God is Rev 8:1, “When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” Again there, there is given no explanation for the silence and so we are left wondering. So what does a silence indicate?  Is it an indication that God doesn’t care?  No, everything else in Scripture challenges that wrong assertion!  Is it an indication that God is having to think through an issue before He comes up with an answer?  Definitely not!  Everything in Scripture tells us that God has perfect knowledge and wisdom and, even more importantly, that what is happening today is a working out of His perfect plan devised before the very foundation of the world. Oh no, it is nothing like that!  So what are we left with?

Probably it is because God is waiting for the right moment to speak and move. Indeed there can be no other satisfactory answer. There are clear indications in Scripture that God is concerned with timing and moves at exactly the right time (e.g. Mk 1:15,  Jn 2:4, 7:6,8, 7:30, 8:20, 13:1, Acts 3:21, Rom 5:6, Gal 4:4, Eph 1:9,10). It seems it is as if God moves in ‘seasons’. There have been times in church history when He has come in revival power; suddenly He has turned up and amazing things have happened and thousands of people have been saved. Compared with such times, most of church history seems slow and relatively uneventful.  In those ‘slower times’ it is natural to cry out to the Lord, with the feeling, “Why Lord, don’t you answer?”

So why does God seem to wait? Why doesn’t He come with power all the time? Possibly it is that He knows that if He did we would take it all for granted and it wouldn’t, in fact, bring good into us. The reality is that we change more into the likeness of Jesus in the hard times, not the times of great blessing. The times of God appearing to remain silent are, in truth, times of testing for us, times that reveal what we’re really like. One day Jesus told a parable, “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1) It was about a widow who pleaded with a judge who apparently wouldn’t reply. Eventually he did, just because she went on and on. Listen to how Jesus concluded it: “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:6-8). Look at what he’s saying. Yes God will eventually deal with the issue, but in the meantime, if I should return, will I find you in a position of faithfulness?

When God appears silent, will we still remain truth to our faith and to Him? Yes, God is waiting for something to happen before He replies, but that something may just be your right response in the situation, your affirmation of love for Him, your declaration of trust in Him. For such reasons the Lord remains silent. If the Lord remains silent, He has a good reason. You can keep asking, but you may have to wait a while for the answer.

15. God Hidden

God in the Psalms No.15

(We recommence a series we started previously some time ago)

Psa 10:1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

There are times in life when it seems that God is a long way away or, even, that He has hidden Himself.  They are mostly times of affliction or of attack, when things come against us and our vision is filled with them.  Habakkuk had one of those times when he cried out, How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Hab 1:2). All around him he saw unrighteousness and God seemed to be totally ignoring it, even a million miles away!  Quite possibly Israel felt like this in Egypt because when He met Moses at the burning bush, the Lord said,I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” (Ex 3:7)  This feeling that God has hidden Himself stems from the fact that we expect Him to move, we expect Him to do something about unrighteousness and when it seems that He is not, we have this sense that He is hiding Himself, He is ignoring our plight. The ultimate extreme of this, of course, was Jesus’ cry from the Cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). Even the Son of God himself knew this experience. It is not uncommon!

So why does it seem that God is not around?  Does He actually move away from us? Does He actually hide Himself?  Well, yes there are times when the Lord seems to stand back, simply that we will realize how much we value Him, which only happens when He steps into the shadows. However, more often than not, this sense of God not being there is simply what we suggested above, our vision is filled with the problems or the people, and they blot out any sense of His presence. At those times we need to step back away from them, be quiet or call on the Lord, to sensitise ourselves to realise that He is actually there all the time.  Did God abandon Jesus on the Cross?  No, the Father never leaves the Son. It was simply that on the Cross Jesus took all our sin and that terrible experience was so awful for the sinless Son of God, that it seemed momentarily to blot out the awareness of the Father’s presence.

The reality is that the Father is always there, Jesus is always there, his Holy Spirit is always there, but because we see the problem or the person, we momentarily lose sight of God’s presence, but it is still there: he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6, Heb 13:5). Jesus said, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:20). At such times we must declare the truth to ourselves: He IS still here; it’s just that I’m not aware of Him!

There are times when the Lord seems to make His presence much more real. The psalmist was very much aware that, wherever he went, the Lord was there, when he said,Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psa 139:7), yet Jacob learned that he could be somewhere where God was without realizing it, when he said to himself,Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” (Gen 28:16). David saw the wicked (v.2) saying to himself,God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees (v.11), but that is not the truth. The Lord may be holding back while waiting for the right time to take action, but he sees, He knows. Thus He was able to say to Moses, I have seen….I have heard …I am concerned…I have come down (Ex 3:7,8).  Oh yes, David, He’s still there!  Oh, yes, He’s still here!

21. God hiding

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.21

Psa 44:24 Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?

As we’ve commented a number of times in these meditations, there are bound to be various commonalities in them, the prime ones are that these cries arise when we are in trouble and God doesn’t seem to be responding as we think He should. Today’s cry has aspects that are unique to it. When someone ‘hides’ they are purposefully making themselves not available so that they cannot be found.

References to the Lord hiding His face occur many times in the psalms – 30:7, 88:14, 27:9, 69:17, 102:2, 143:7. Little children hide their face when they are embarrassed and want to pretend they are not there. We tend to think of adults as turning their face away, but it is the same thing. When someone turns their face away there may be three different things they are doing. The first is that they are showing that they don’t want to see what you are doing. It suggests they disapprove of it and therefore don’t want to know about it. The second thing is that they are showing they don’t want to communicate with you. We communicate with our mouths and with our faces generally, and when we don’t want to communicate we turn away and ignore the person. The third reason is that they want to hide what they are feeling, by hiding what is on their face. In each case there is the suggestion that there has been some breakdown in the relationship so that the person hiding their face wants to dissociate themselves from the other person somehow.

With the Lord, seeing His face is a special privilege. When Moses was talking to the Lord on one occasion, the Lord said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Ex 33:20) and “you will see my back; but my face must not be seen” (v.23) yet when the Lord spoke about Moses, He said, “With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD.” (Num 12:8) yet the phrase ‘face to face’ clearly didn’t mean that Moses saw the Lord, but that the communication between the two of them was open. The best that could be said was that Moses had seen ‘the form’ of God, the shape or outline. Similarly Moses said to the people, “The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain” (Deut 5:4) and again the phrase ‘face to face’ obviously doesn’t mean ‘visibly clear’ but more ‘distinctly’.

Just before the time of Moses’ death, the Lord warned him that in the future the people would turn away from the Lord and turn to idols at which point He warned, “On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed.” (Deut 31:17). Hiding His face thus also became synonymous with standing back from Israel and allowing judgment through surrounding nations to come upon them. So ‘hiding His face’ came to be used when the Lord cut Himself off from His people and brought judgment on them.

David in Psalm 4 wrote, “Many are asking, ‘Who can show us any good?’ Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.” (Psa 4:6). There he saw that the Lord’s ‘face’ shone with glory and therefore when the Lord turned towards them, His glory would shine on them and would bring God’s goodness to them. In Psalm 11 he said, “For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.” (Psa 11:7) implying a relationship is there with the Lord for the person who is righteous. Simply seeing his face, means having a relationship so, as we said above, if the Lord turns away His face, it is a sign of His relationship being withdrawn.

Now for us, we need to understand that as Christians, that relationship is only ever withdrawn when there is apostasy, the clear and purposeful turning from a life with God to a life of sin – see Heb 6 (in v.6 ‘fall away’ doesn’t mean to commit an occasional sin, but to completely change your life to sin). However, there is a withdrawal of communion when we are in a wrong attitude that offends the Lord. On those occasions the Lord does ‘hide His face’ from us and there is no communication. Scriptures tells us that it is possible for us to “grieve the Spirit” (Eph 4:30) and on those times there is a breakdown of the relationship as far as communication is concerned. The bizarre thing is that we can generally have our hearts turned towards Him and yet have and maintain a wrong attitude or behaviour towards others, which grieves the Lord. While we persist in that course of thinking or action, it will be as if the Lord hides His face from us and there is little or no communication with Him.

Moses laid down an important principle: “you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 4:29). If you fear there has been a breakdown in communication between you and the Lord, then the answer is clear: look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you do that, one thing you will find you are doing is examining yourself to ensure there is nothing in your life to hinder that relationship. If you do that wholeheartedly then you will deal with any wrong attitudes or actions and put them right, for you will want nothing, but nothing, to get between you and the Lord. Paul said about Communion, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (1 Cor 11:28). It is for the same reason. We can seem apparently good people in public but if we harbour wrong thoughts, then we will find that because this grieves the Lord, He will hide His face. May it not be so!