Where is God When We Need Him Most?

Psalm 22:1-5

When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing God, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to God when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

Those are the words of C.S. Lewis, well known author, lay theologian and Christian apologist as he struggles with God during the illness and death of his wife Joy.  He wrote about that struggle in the the book A Grief Observed. His words could be paraphrased by the first two verses of today’s text:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?

2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent.

Psalm 22 is a Psalm of Lament. More than one third of the Psalms can be categorized as Laments.  The function of a Lament is to provide a structure for crisis, hurt, grief, or despair; to move a worshipper from hurt to joy, from darkness to light, from desperation to hope. This movement from hurt to joy is not a psychological or liturgical experience only, although it includes those. And it is not a physical deliverance from the crisis, although that is often anticipated. The movement “out of the depths” from hurt to joy is a profoundly spiritual one.

The theological significance of a lament is that it expresses a trust in God in the absence of any evidence that He is active in the world. Through a sequential and deliberate structure, the lament moves from articulation of the emotion of the crisis, to petition for God to intervene, to an affirmation of trust in God even though there has been no immediate deliverance from the crisis

Our text this morning is the introductory cry and address of this lament. We hear the cry of the psalmist out of his suffering followed by words that direct that cry to a God who has been present and has saved His people in the past.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel. [a]

4 In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.

5 They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

The psalmist recognizes that God has “shown up” in the past and that everyone knows that He can do it. The rest of the psalm, elaborates on the complaint of the writer and ends with an affirmation of faith in God.

We don’t really encourage this sort of behaviour in our churches, do we?  Some how, to question the presence of God seems to be just wrong.   To cry out to God in such a complaining tone, accusing God of not listening to us, not paying attention to our needs, not lifting us out of our despair,  feels like there may be a lack of faith showing through,

The American Old testament scholar and theologian, Walter  Brueggemann contends that the Psalms of lament should become part of the liturgical fabric of our churches. He further states that

By not using these psalms, we have given people two messages: either you mustn’t feel “that” way (angry with God, for example) or, if you feel “that” way, you must do something about it somewhere else—but not here. (Bruegemann, 1993)

In his forward to Ann Weem’s Psalms of Lament Brueggeman points out that

“we should not miss the courageous and daring act of faith that is constituted and enacted in such utterance.  The lamentation-complaint, perhaps Israel’s most characteristic and vigorous mode of faith, introduces us to a “spirituality of protest”.  That is, Israel boldly recognizes that all is not right in the world.  This against our easy gentile way of denial, pretending in each other’s presence and in the presence of God that “all is well” when it is not” (Weems (1995), pg xii)

And that is what we do, isn’t it?  We pretend in each other’s presence and the presence of God that all is well when it is not.  Some how we regard stoic quiet suffering as a more “Christlike” and faith filled response to the things going on around us than the sort of noisy cry of complaint that is modeled in this Psalm.  A cry of complaint to a God we all profess exists and has power over every thing that goes on in our world.

You will do it here again today.  Mostly you will discuss how God is working in this classis and in your churches.  It is exciting stuff. God is blessing many of our endeavors, we see Him at work in many areas of our ministries.  He is faithful.  Virtually no one will stand at that microphone today and say “Right now…God seems to be gone from our church.  So many bad things are happening.  We seem to be losing the battle.  We are really struggling to find our way and God just seems to be ignoring us.”  If it does happen, there will be an uncomfortable silence.  We would be hard pressed to recognize those statements as statements of faith.

We really don’t recognize this sort of talk as a sign of a strong faith in our fellow believers either.  Complaining and accusing God of not paying attention to our needs, not caring for us doesn’t seem right.   And yet, our Savoir did it:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Our Savior, Jesus Christ,, whose relationship with the Father was closer than you and I will ever experience on this earth accuses him of walking away, forsaking him.

Our world is a place filled with pain, suffering, and loss.  Our Savior, Jesus Christ knew that.  He walked among us and saw the suffering in his world.  In his last hours he cries out with a loud voice, and what does he cry?  He cries the first words of Psalm 22:1:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

He could have, if he had been able to draw enough breath, quoted the next 18 verses as well.  Verses which describe the worst things that men do to each other.  Verses which describe the agonies that our Savior suffers on our behalf.

Just as the psalmist does, Jesus ends his lament with a statement of faith.  Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus’ cry of lament at the ninth hour followed by a second loud cry as he dies.  Luke records the words of that cry in Chapter 23:46

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

In our Savior’s words we have moved from Lament to Faith.  From a cry of loss to a coming home.  From abandonment to comfort.

To wrestle with God, to present our complaints to him, to cry out in despair when the entire world seems to be crashing down around us, is in fact an act of faith.  You don’t swim furiously toward a lifeline unless you believe that it is there.  You also don’t contend with a God who doesn’t exist.  The cry of lament is a cry to a God who we know is there, a God we know can save us, a God we know can comfort us.

What can we say to these crying, lost struggling souls? What have we to offer baffled men and women in our congregations and here in our classis who stand face to face with curtains through which they cannot see, and doors which are closed and apparently double bolted to which they find no key? How do we aid them in their time of lament?  Well, we have this at least: We can offer a wonderful  Saviour who has walked just their road and who is, therefore, able to enter into full sympathy with them.

18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)

We can assure them that our Christ is not angry with them because they question. He himself said “Why?”

We can assure them further that this Christ of ours, when he was felt abandoned, alone, forsaken, brought his lament to God and that God did not fail him, but brought him through in triumph. Then we can add with confidence that this understanding Christ is infinitely able and infinitely eager to do the same for them, even the weakest.  He will not fail us.

We need to, using the analogy of the life line, point them toward that line, remind them that the lifeline is real.  We likely need to swim beside them, assuring them that their conviction that there is a life line is correct.  We need to remind them and ourselves that at other times in our lives we have relied on  that same life line and found safety, rest, found ourselves in the arms of a loving, caring, real God. And if they would just stop flailing for a moment they will likely realize that they are already securely tied to the line, a line tied with divine knots..

As we look back on our lives we see God’s hand at work, we see how he has saved us in the past and our lament, over time moves to become a song of praise.  Our lament grows out of sorrow out of trouble into a stronger faith that recognizes a God of grace, a faith that can say Father into your hand I commit my life.

C.S Lewis begins his Grief Observed struggling to find God, to hear God’s voice, to feel that God is anywhere nearby in his time of need.  He ends by understanding that God was there, in fact wasn’t really ever gone.  The pain of loss is still there, but faith grows up beside it and through it.

Lament, it’s not an act of weakness.  It is part of a life of faithfulness.  A life that expects to see God show up.  A faith modeled by the psalmist and the Son.

Let us pray

Lord, we fear being honest with you about our pain. Too often, we somehow feel we can hide it from you, yet we know we cannot. Today, we know that part of how we can praise you is by trusting that you will hear that anguish within our hearts. We know Lord, that as Jesus cried to you in pain, we can too. And we know, Oh Holy Spirit, that you will work in our lives, so that, as you raised Jesus from the dead, you will bring to us new life.
Amen

19 thoughts on “Where is God When We Need Him Most?

  1. Pingback: I Got My License « The Farmer goes to Seminary

  2. Well done. I am reminded of Tevye’s complaint to God in Fiddler on The Roof “If we are your chosen people couldn’t you for once choose someone else”

  3. Pingback: Psalm 5 | Psalm Thoughts

  4. Pingback: Psalm 22 | Psalm Thoughts

  5. Pingback: The Good Life | The Farmer goes to Seminary

  6. A Grief Observed was the first Lewis book I’ve read – in fact, the only non-fiction one so far. I took exception at it from his hinting of a heavenly antechamber for the purification of the soul (purgatory)… so I was really unimpressed, and dismissed it as the painful ramblings of someone who’s very recently lost his wife. Understandable, but personal catharsis not sound theology.

    The book is in the shelf right behind me… don’t look now… too late, I’ve picked it up. There’s a marker in the middle, so I very likely didn’t finish it… I leaf through it, and a sentence catches my attention: What do people mean when they say, “I don’t fear God because I know that He is good”? Have they never even been to the dentist’s?

    Thank you for giving me back a book, because now I know I will (re)read it. 15 years past that first reading, all of the painful appointments of life – some at the dentist’s – will help me appreciate it.

    • Julio,

      Thanks for your comment, I never read a Lewis’s book as a theology, although in broad terms any time we interact with God and try to describe who God is from that interaction we are practicing theology. I see it more in terms of a lament in the style of the Psalms, Psalm 22 being the example in this posting.

      Thanks for stopping by….

      Ken

      • You’ve never read a Lewis book as theology… So you see the issue I had with it: exactly because it was not theology (not systematic anyway), and what it was – well, that was way over my head back then. Now I’m more interested in pondering over pain and hardship, much more than to “figure it all out”, so I think I’ll enjoy / benefit from Lewis very much.

  7. I’ve prayed many times day night ..yet where is God ..I’ve had 3 back surgeries take pills every day for pain..recently I save some money to buy sheep ..to start my own business ..in buying and selling..a month later one morning I found all my herd dead..friend says it was a dog . Why did God let this happen…either God doesn’t love me or he just doesn’t care.

    • Raul,

      Thanks for your note.

      God does indeed love you and care for you! But, God does not promise that our lives will be without suffering. God does promise to be there in our suffering, to comfort, to give hope, to be our rock of shelter.

      The psalms are filled with the laments of God’s people, crying out to God “How long?” “Why have you forsaken me”, on and on, as you do in your short note to me. It is fine to call God to task, to wonder if God is near, if God cares.

      Look over your past life, and I’m sure, in some way you will be able to recognize God’s hand. Trust that God is still there today, still cares, still holds your life.

      Ken

      • The whole “waiting” meme seems like a dodge to me. Ostensibly, we are better people as we come through our trials, but in real life, the opposite is the fact. We get bitter and start to hate a God so powerful, and yet so unhelpful. We hear ad infinitum how God “is with us” through our trials, but what does this mean? I sat with my Dad as he died from pneumonia with an eye dropper, putting drops of morphine on his tongue periodically to ease the pain of suffocation (this is how one with pnuemonia dies) and guess what? He still died, and he died in agony, if somewhat reduced agony thanks, not to God, but to morphine. Right now I am dying spiritually and in other ways, and i DO NOT need God’s “being there for me” (whatever that means), but instead I need Him to FIX THINGS, just like my father needed his pneumonia fixed, not for me to “be there” with him. Is god a fairy godfather, or does He physically act in the lives of humans? If the latter is not there, He is useless to most, certainly to me. I think Christians need to move out of the realm of fairy tales, e.g., “He’s with me” and get real. The reality is we suffer, despite God’s ability to IMMEDIATELY and PERMANENTLY stop ALL suffering. It goes on for His “glory” we say, and yet in saying this we are, perhaps unwittingly, describing a monster, not a good God. I believe words ought to be used properly, and to describe a God who “glorfies” Himself by allowing our suffering, we can rightly say we are describing a monster.

  8. PAIN and SUFFERING!!!!Tried all my life to make sense of this thing called life.The world is getting worse by the day!Was in the USAF made sergeant in 1983,got out worked hard then lost everything home business and family,saw my first wife(who just died)get my son hooked on pain pills then heroin!I am trying to save him and my 4 grandchildren!I had brain aneurysm surgery twice now disabled.Flat broke damn near homeless I have thrown everything at this have given my all including prayer for years then when I thought it cant get worse a heart attack!All my money etc. still going to help son and daughter in law on methadone program and that is barley working go days without food down to 125lbs and no relief in site no money for dentist two bad teeth killing me.I am as good as dead cant believe I am still alive there is more that I have left out but at this point I dont think anyone is suffering like this!I now pray for death my only relief.Where is God is a good question.There is a lot going on in this world all around money and power some sick people run our world religion included and those that can help dont care religion included!I still see something some purpose of life in the universe and believe we are not meant to suffer like this and to read the bible or other writings use to help but now even our neighbor has abandoned us our own family and when God use to work through others that is even gone.I dont know what help is there for any of us the churches want money and fancy buildings not people in need and unless we all change from this material mentality mine is just one of many before it all ends!God help us but I doubt it!

    • Matt,

      Your note could almost be a modern paraphrase of Psalm 22…My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from me? It is also a strong, and I’m sure in some cases, well deserved indictment of the organized church. God is still working in the world. The kingdom of God is here and still coming.

      Read all of Psalm 22, as it moves from despair to hope, back to despair and back to hope again. Psalm 46 might be helpful as well. The psalms describe the relationship of the psalmist to God in very real terms. We are welcomed to question, to wonder, to be angry with God, to ask “Where are you God?”

      Suffering is hard, but I would rather go through suffering with God, than without.

      Blessings

  9. I decide to leave my country to try work abroad and I say it is a leap of faith for me. But before I decide to go I do prayer and fasting if it is God’s will for me. I pray and plead until the day of my departure, I say God if it is really for me help me on my way there and make it a smooth and hassle free flight and if this journey is wasn’t for me make a way so I will not go there, then to make the long story short I arrived in my destination safely and highly favored. So on my 1st weeks I had my interview all went well but as the days goes by no return calls from the job I’ve applied for. I’ve been in to final interview from left to right but it at the end I wasn’t chosen. I plead to God, where is He now? Why it is He seems so silent? This is the 1st time I try to leap my faith but it didn’t work out well. I return to my country with heavy heart and asking why do God leave me? Why is He forsaken me in this journey in which I surrender everything to Him. Now I am starting to doubt His ways and plans. And i ask myself where did I go wrong? Why did He allow me to go there and leave me eventually? I don’t want to lose my faith to Him I want to hold into Him and His promises but I seems like no reasons to trust Him and His ways anymore. Now that everything seems falling apart. I’ve been bipolar in my faith one day I feel that yeah god has a better plan for me and on the next day it feels like He rejected me.

  10. Honestly, the only god you’d find throughout your life is faith in yourself. Any father who is so influential and powerful yet leaves any of his child in a mess is either a psychopath or the devil himself. A father who shows up only after much evil has happened… well; that is the definition of the all-powerful god who lets the bad guys get everything in life – from the best of women to the grandest of homes and access to the best doctors… while the believers die only to be resurrected on the so-called last day. Truly, this is the god of our planet… let it be clear that no one’s faith in that god needs be shaken but through common sense it could be easily inferred that the thing we assume to be god may perhaps not be the real thing… who knows?

    Did the satan lock the real God away somewhere and took the throne…. much like what Zeus’s children did to Zeus in Greek mythology? Again: who knows? But we all are sure of one thing: our own hearts and faith in our own selves. Perhaps, after all, the search for god is a confession of our search to reclaim our divine states which cannot be offered by any god or man but gained through our own efforts to affirm our own divinity and stand by it at all times. Faith does not prove god… faith says nothing about him. Now, why put faith on something so aloof? How can a Dog give birth to an Elephant? How can god’s children be short of divine? But we are all sinners before god because of Adam & Eve. Now, if you are a Grandfather or Grandmother, would you punish your own grand children because of the disobedience of your own direct children at some point?

    A dog begets a dog! Children of god should from the start be happy, joyous and free (like god too)… but how are you? Really Happy? Truly Joyous? Yet, god enjoys all these things and allows his children the opposites!!! We all must seek not to find who god is but to find who god is not. And again, from common sense, since evil people prosper here on earth; the god of this earth must be evil…. if one should search for anything, it would be to separate the real from the illusory… perhaps even our cherished bible is the work of that evil god…. because if god is good and god knows everything, who why should he try you? He already knew everything about you. What is the need for a test? Do you go to grocery store with some Laboratory equipments to test if the Apple was real Apple? No! You just know an Apple and you also can tell it apart from an Orange. It is also written in that bible that he knows the number of hairs in our head even before we were born. Do you not wonder why such an all-powerful god would still want you to suffer in the name of trying and testing your faith?

    Did you create yourself? If you said no and you believe that the loving, compassionate god created you; he should have made it easier for you and your life because honestly; life is not all about pains and suffering… still it appears that god enjoys seeing us go through all these…. promising us eternal life when we have faith in his words or eternal damnation in the fires of hell if we don’t (CONDITIONAL LOVE). He should have also known that we all can’t be strong under extreme pains, suffering, disappointments and stresses… yet he goes on pulling his strings… and engages in a fight with another being called satan: their purpose being to win over the human beings…. as if god (the omnipotent) would not have the power to kick satan off his face and lock him away…. god is good but the good god is nowhere to be found. But then, find your own self in Love & Compassion… perhaps that is the realest god than the god hanging somewhere beyond the stars in a place called heaven….

    Let no man dismiss the existence of god yet let no man totally give in to an absurd god who is so cruel to his children. A real father would do everything for his children… even at the cost of his own life. Now, if god has some issues with something he also created (the devil) both of them should solve the problem on their own. Why involve humans. This reminds me of 2 wealthy families yet business competitors. These apparent enemies were united in grand friendship by the fact a girl from family A fell in love with a Man from Family B… the love was so true it broke the hate and the competition… building not only a true union but a merger of companies where all of them enjoyed true happiness and union. Yet, as little and as humble as we are, god expects us to fight against the devil and have nothing to do with him and the devil wishes us to do exactly the same in the opposite direction. Now, where is god’s love? Satan, anyways, is known to be evil but where is the evidence of god’s love here?

    Yet the good old book says that GOD IS LOVE… and still he wouldn’t settle his problem with his enemy and draws us into HATING HIS ENEMY and loving him alone (as a jealous god). Wow!!! Sounds like an act satan himself would be engaged in. What would it take for that god to remove the satan? But since over 2000 Year, Jesus is still coming to fight the devil. When Jesus arrives, honestly, what would we expect? He would raise us from the dead… emmmmm…. but then only our skeletons would be there…and even some of the skeletons must have been destroyed by one means or another. “Yes”, you say, “god will fill in the blanks”. The blanks he couldn’t fill in while you were alive??? And even then; how would you be guaranteed that such a thing would not happen again in that far-off heaven? How would you be certain that you can adapt to that heaven if you don’t even know how having a simple, true & harmonious life felt like while on earth? Have you been in a new job and seen how long it takes for you to adapt? But this is different because you would be adapting to an environment filled with perfect, divine beings and angels… how easy could that be if you never had a taste of heaven (peace, love, balance, joy, unity) once? Would he (god) continue his testing us (like we do with guinea pigs) over there in heaven? These are questions each of us must have to answer. Ironically, the truth is always clear: LOVE IS THE ONLY FAITH, GOD AND POWER ONE CAN ALWAYS LEAN ON… the “him” or the “her” or the “what” are only figments of our imagination…

    FIND LOVE WITHIN YOUR HEART AND YOU EITHER HAVE FOUND WHERE THE FALSE GOD LOCKED AWAY THE REAL GOD OR YOU’D SEE THAT THERE IS REALLY NO NEED TO HOLD ON TO AN IMAGINARY ALL-POWERFUL MAN CALLED GOD… why? BECAUSE LOVE IS THE ONLY ALL-POWERFUL FORCE IN THE ENTIRETY OF THE COSMOS… everything comes from Love and the moment you get back to that Place within your heart; every sorrow, fear, problems, ills, weaknesses and troubles fade away to become faith, freedom, health, joy, strength, life, harmony, balance, abundance, wisdom and truth…. there is no man there… there is no woman there… it is just Love… something whose signature can be felt as warmth, peace, openness, aliveness, health, balance…. in this sense, god ceases to be an Object, a Man, a physical being… rather it become the very neuter Power that only creates, expands and works with wisdom…. then, you’d see that the need for a god to hold on to is just as a child’s need to hold on to his mother in the night for fear of being alone… which fear fades away when the child grows into a man… LOVE IS ALL WE NEED – NOT AN IMAGINARY GIANT SUPER-MAN!!!

    • You have a few good points, but like the “love” crowd, you put all your eggs in one basket. No self-reliance is NOT enougth, in fact, it is nowhere near enough? If you think otherwise, go fix North Korea with your self-reliance before they send a nuke our way.

  11. I know my replies have caused some consternation, if not pain, and I meant neither to happen. My questions ARE NOT an attempt to disprove God or call Him mean, but simply to understand, and perhaps cope better, with the hell that is on earth, with a Holy God seeing it all and doing very little if anything about it. Let us say you are a 10 year old little girl, and a man snatches you out of your mother’s arms, and yet mom just stands there and makes NO attempt to retrieve you, or even call the cops to help do so. Would you, as a little girl (or even a grown up one) think mom loved you? Surely you would not, and yet the SAME EXACT THING happens with God, and we fall all over ourselves to exonerate Him of any fault. Example? When I was in school (until I got to college) I was bigger than 99.9% of the other males, and, with one exception, bigger than any of the male teachers, principal, or gym teachers. When I saw smaller kids getting bullied, I would go over and “reason together” with the bully, until he gave up his desire to hurt someone smaller than him. If I, a sinful man can do this, why not God? If your answer is that I am wicked for asking this question, please don’t bother replying, as I am only interested in answers to MY QUESTIONS not yours. Thank you.

    • Jim,

      Your comments have not caused any consternation or pain. They are, in fact very human and very real. They are comments that I may have made as I watched my mother slip away last summer, or as we kept vigil beside my father-in-law’s bed before he died. If you go to the Psalms, you will find that more than a third of them sound a bit like what you have been writing. We call them Laments and in them the psalmists ask your questions. They shout out to God asking why they have been forsaken? Why they are suffering? Why God has apparently left them?

      Those of us who find comfort in God, don’t do so because God takes away our troubles or pains, but because in them God goes with us. I know that in God I have hope even though the situation right now really sucks. Like the psalmists, when I am in the middle of the trouble, in the middle of the suffering, I may lose sight of God, feel like God in nowhere around, but afterward recognize that God never really left and that without God the suffering would have been a lot worse.

      Sure, miraculous healing sometimes happens, but I think that is the exception rather than the rule. The comfort we find is that we are not in it alone, but that God goes with us.

      Thanks for stopping by….

  12. You are wrong: love is nowhere NEAR enough to make life on this planet peacable and good. Unless you want to try your “love” solution with ISIS, I would say we need a great deal more than love, e.g., occasionially we need fists and firearms.

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