This is part three of an ongoing series where we examine the Psalms greatest hits. This is not a “deep-dive” exegetical series to titillate the intellect. If the Psalms are not experienced deep within the soul, then the words are lost on us. My purpose in this series is to cut through the exoskeleton and veneer, and allow the bottomless well of love captured in these words to burst out and take us where they may.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Do you know the pain of an unanswered prayer? Have you perceived a void where “Something” should have existed? When expecting a voice or message, has only silence come forth? When searching for a sign, did nothing come into view? In all my years of serving people in spiritual formation, I assure you there is no greater cause for unbelief than unanswered prayers.
The presence of God is distinct from our perception of this divine attendance. God is not a figment of our imagination, nor is God an appendage to our creative, emotional, or intellectual centers. As such there is no ceremony, song, or ritual that invokes God to show up and overtake us. We may know intellectually or theologically that God is near, but that sweet place of divine union never comes from our end. Paul says the gifts of grace and faith are not of ourselves (Ephesians 2:8). The soul that has never tasted nor been completely satisfied within the presence of God cannot know this psalmists longing for intimate reunion.
“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” (Psalm 84:10)
The flow and proximity of God stretches us as it pulls us out of our self focus and deep into oneness. Then the flow gently lifts away leaving us back in our dimmed reality. It’s easy to feel forsaken. The request of union, or the request of anything at all reveals our vulnerability, weakness, and total dependence. Some prayer requests are so desperate and so pain filled, that if God stays his hand, we perceive cruelty, and it’s easier to not believe at all than to believe that such severity has purpose or meaning.
Help us to see from your transcending perspective. The loving parent must walk away from the crying baby, lest we never learn to sooth and eventually self actualize. The pattern is reunion then disunion. Inhalation and exhalation. Inspire and expire. Closer and further proximity. Expansion and contraction. This is your rhythm, this is the breath of God, this becomes our rhythm. Sobering reality and wonton slumber. Desiring God and desiring anything but.
The rhythm is trust worthy. Like the sun returning on its course, so we know in times of perceived isolation that we will be attended again and again. The proximity of God is not out from obligation, but an all encompassing love.
“Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?” (Song of Solomon 6:10)
The withholding of God is as much a gift to us as his consolations, but our eyes are dim and struggle to see. What we perceive as God leaving is but another revelation of God in the pattern of the Christ. The One who was rejected by his people, forsaken by his friends, and found no place to rest his head. The One who did everything right and yet God was pleased to crush him (Isaiah 53:10)
“Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:11)
What we thought was an unanswered prayer is the answer to the biggest prayer our life can summon. The quest for identity. The worst thing that can every happen to an innocent human being we now call “Good Friday.” We find our life written into the story of God. A story so tragic, yet so redemptive, that we need to see it everywhere or else we will fail to see it happening within our lives.
Our journey begins with “How long, oh Lord?” but it ends with singing and a bountiful life. This transformation takes place the moment we realize we were never left alone, we were never forsaken, we’ve never been derailed, no dead ends, nothing has ever been missing from each and ever moment. We’ve simply followed in the footsteps of the Christ life no matter what name we’ve ascribed to it. In blindness we thought we were being buried, now seeing, we are only being planted.
Finally, everything belongs and is beautiful. This, is inner transformation.