However long you’ve been a Christian, there are times when, if we’re honest with ourselves, we question everything. We pray for healing from the cancer as our best friend goes through chemo and she dies anyway. We pray for a Godly outcome to a key election and what we believe to be the worst-case scenario happens anyway. We pray for reconciliation in a marriage and it ends in divorce, protection for a struggling adolescent and it ends in suicide. Most of us have a list like this. We wisely choose to ignore it most of the time, until something else happens and we’re back there again, questioning everything.
Did God hear our prayers? Does he care? Can he really do anything, and if so WHY does he let it happen? It’s easy to conclude that God has forgotten all about us, up there in his celestial comfort zone. We are not the first to feel like this. “How Long Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” cries the writer of Psalm 13 in despair. There are indeed times when it feels like God is hiding, and maybe it’s better just to admit it, as the Psalmist did.
From that place of honesty, the psalmist is also able to share some of their feelings with God; the mental wrestling, the depths of sorrow, the sense of defeat in the face of faithful prayer, the feeling of being totally overcome, like death. Some of this may sound familiar if you have experienced grief and loss. Grief can come upon us for many different reasons and to different degrees depending on circumstance. It’s interesting to note that it’s not a new phenomenon, and that the Bible, which charts so many of the myriad of human experiences, charts this one too.
When I heard the news that my younger brother had died, my heart and thoughts went into ‘wrestle mode’: so many questions; so much sorrow. It felt overwhelming. He took his own life after years of battling mental illness. Many hundreds of people had prayed for him over decades but he seemed to get worse not better. We assume that in the end he saw only one way out. It felt like a triumph for that evil spectre. It felt like God had been ‘overcome’. My reasoning was similar to that of the Psalmist – ‘Lord, I’m wrestling with all this so much that I can’t even sleep, but it looks like one for the enemy. Why have you not shown yourself to be God here?’
Psalm 13 is a bit short on answers to this kind of questioning. The answer it does give us in verses 5-6 is a demanding one: the Psalmist says “But I trust in your unfailing love”. That is a very hard thing to do at times. Is it trust without evidence? Blind Trust? It may seem like it in certain situations, but if we fall back on the unfailing love of God, the love that we have experienced over years, it starts to make more sense.
The next line is even more audacious: “My heart rejoices in your salvation”. Whilst at first glance this may seem glib at best, it holds a deeper reassurance: the pain and sorrow of this world is not God’s final word. He offers us salvation and in that, at least, we can rejoice, however we feel just now. Ultimately salvation heralds eternity. Ultimately we fall back on the reassurance of Christ that there is something more: a place that is prepared for us (John 14:2-3), a place where ‘The Lord will be your everlasting light and your days of sorrow will end’ (Isaiah 60:20).
We are not asked to justify the situation, not told that God has made it happen, or that we should be thankful and glad in the face of it. We are told that even in the worst of times there are things we can hold onto, things that will not fail us in the context of eternity: God’s love, God’s salvation, and God’s worthiness of praise.
For those of us struggling to accept this in whatever our current circumstances may be, the Psalmist gives us a final word of reassurance – something to fall back on: ‘God has been good to me’. There is a reason for your faith. At some point you have experienced God in some way. And it’s that fact that we have to hold onto through the times when he seems to have forgotten us. Does that fact make everything OK? I would say ‘No!’ The pain is real and debilitating, along with the questions and confusion. But I choose to hold on to the unfailing love of God, his promise of salvation and the goodness I have experienced in my own life here on earth. And when things get too hard to bear, I know that the God who made and loves both the heavens and the earth weeps with me.
If you follow my You Tube Channel ‘Bible Journalling UK’, you’ll have seen my video of journalling with Psalm 13 (see below to watch again). The process of journalling opened up a space for me to think more clearly about grief and loss and where God is in it all. What you’ve just read are my post-paint-spreading reflections!