Journey Through The Psalms: How Long?
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, "I have overcome him." and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord's praise, for he has been good to me. -Psalm 13
Well, we're making a little bit of a shift this morning. Last week was that hymn of orientation in Psalm 8, which God was praised and lifted up for this wonderful world that has been made. This week we're looking at a Psalm that would be more in that category of a Psalm of disorientation. Where suddenly things are not going the way that the Psalmist wants. And they're trying to make sense of it. This Psalm is also referred to as a personal Psalm of lament. In the subscription at the top, it says, in my Bible particularly, it says, “A prayer for deliverance from enemies to the leader, a Psalm of David.” Now, we don't know exactly what the enemy was that David or the Psalmist felt like was attacking them. But we have a sense that this has been going on for a while, that this isn't just a spur of the moment statement that the Psalmist is making with asking these questions of ‘God, how long? Oh, Lord.’ Four times this question is asked of God. And this is not one that I think the Psalmist is looking for an answer to. In fact, this is a rhetorical question. And rhetorical questions are asked to make a point. And in some cases, those rhetorical questions actually make an accusation. It's kind of like that person that asked the question, ‘what were you thinking?’ Well, they don't want you to answer that. They already know. They know you screwed up. They know you made a mistake. They know you did something you shouldn't have and the question implies that.
Well, I think the psalmist here is accusing God, saying, ‘God, this is your fault. The Psalmist isn't wanting God to give a timeline to say, ‘Well, if you wait four more days, things will get better.’ ‘How long O Lord?’ is ‘God, you did this and you're the one that got me in this mess.’ In our world today, particularly in television and comedy, we see questions like this come up. If you remember the I Love Lucy show, this would be like Ricky Ricardo saying to God, ‘You got some explaining to do!’ Or the woman who's in the throes of labor, who stops long enough to grab her husband by the shirt collar and say, ‘You did this to me.’ The Psalmist is at that point of saying, ‘God, this is your fault. And I'm not liking how I'm feeling.’ It's wearing on the Psalmist.
God is addressed Yahweh, the God of Heaven is addressed and saying, ‘This is your fault.’ In those first two verses, and this Psalm moves so fast, there are only six verses here, and yet we cover so much ground. So God is questioned, ‘How long, O Lord, how long is this going to continue? How long must I endure this? Have you forgotten me completely? You're a negligent absent God because of what's happening to me right now.’ And then in verses three and four, there's a little bit of a shift. Not only has the Psalmist been accusing God, now that Psalmist is going to tell God what God needs to do. ‘God, you consider this. And answer me.’ But the Psalmist becomes more personal. The Psalmist turns us from this distant God that's absent, and uncaring to calling up at least a past connection with God, because while God is being commanded, ‘Consider and answer me.’ It also says, ‘Yahweh, O Lord my God, I'll acknowledge that you're my God but we're still not in a good place.’
He goes on and says, ‘Give light to my eyes, or I'll sleep. The sleep of death. Help me to understand this God, otherwise, I might as well be dead. Because it doesn't seem that there's any hope. And my enemies will say, I have prevailed. My foes will rejoice because I am shaken.’ Again, the Psalmist is saying, ‘God, you got me into this. And what's more... This is your problem, your reputation is at stake, because if my enemies prevail, if my foes rejoice because I'm shaken. Well them feeling like they've won isn't just a victory over me, but if they know that you're my God, it's a victory over you as well. So God, this is your problem that you need to step up to the plate.’
And then the Psalmist suddenly has this turn. I don't know how things may be laid out in your Bibles at your reading at home, but mine, these verses are separated almost by what would we call a paragraph break. Versus one and two are grouped together and there's a little bit of a space. And verses three and four are grouped together and there's a little bit of space. And then we get to five where suddenly the whole attitude seems to have shifted because the Psalmist is suddenly saying, ‘But I trust it. In your steadfast love, my heart shall rejoice in your salvation, I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.’ But what happened in that paragraph break? What happened from the end of verse 4, in the beginning of Verse 5, for the Psalmist to suddenly make this shift? Well, the Psalm itself doesn't tell us that God speaks. God doesn't necessarily, that we're told, intervene or step in. So what's going on, what's happening with this particular Psalm?
Maybe God does intervene. Maybe there's an extended period of time that is actually taken place between the end of Verse 4 and the beginning of Verse 5. Maybe the person is praying this Psalm to God is actually experiencing some relief. Maybe things have improved in the situation, the enemy is gone, or whatever. Or maybe...maybe the attitude of the Psalmist has changed. Maybe the situation is the same, but maybe the way that they're looking at the situation is different. We begin with this accusation against God, ‘God, I am hard-pressed right now and life is not fine, this has been going on for far too long already, and How long O Lord, is this going to keep happening?’
A few years ago, I was talking to a colleague and there had been a church meeting that had taken place. It was a very contentious one, and there had an open forum for people to air out their grievances and just say what they were thinking. And it was nasty, and it was ugly, and there were things said that were just hurtful and mean. And after the meeting, my friend was walking out with the superintendent who had been there as well, and my friend asked the superintendent, ‘Well, what did you think of how that meeting went?’ And the superintendent said, ‘Well, you know, when I'm sick, I often feel better after I've vomited as well.’ Well, there's some truth to that, and in some ways, this rant, this rage that is being poured out toward God is emptying the Psalmist of some of that stuff that's really making him sick. It might be the actual situation is affecting the Psalmist that much. But it could be that that pent-up frustration and anger and rage and whatever else is really contributing to the problem as much or more so. And maybe by simply airing it out of vomiting it out at God's feet and saying, ‘God, this is awful’ suddenly began to free the Psalmist. Suddenly began to give them a little bit of relief from those things.
Because at first the Psalmist is saying, ‘You, you God, are the one that has done this.’ But then we're able to move from that to, ‘God, you're my God, I need you to listen, I need you to consider me. I need to know that you're still there.’ And by the time we get to verse 5, the Psalmist is saying, ‘God, I trusted in your steadfast love.’ It's past tense. It’s something that has already happened. And so maybe this is a remembering back long before whatever situation is going on, and the ‘God You were there for me, I've trusted before in you, and I can do it again, I can do it here and now.’
Now, the Psalm might be a little difficult for us to think about sometimes because we hear this word enemy, that I'm being afflicted by an enemy, and how long will my enemy be exalted over me, and my enemy will say, ‘And the foe will rejoice because I'm shaken.’ And for us, thankfully, we live in a pretty safe world. Thankfully, I would hope that most of us don't have true enemies. Because enemies are those people that are met on a battlefield, the soldiers face off with guns and tanks and weapons. We don't necessarily deal with enemies like that on a daily basis. But if we think of the word enemy in a broader sense, an enemy is that which stands against us, that which tries to take and divert us off an intended course to cause us harm, to frustrate us. And if we use a much broader understanding of an enemy, we could say that we all have our own enemies that we face collectively over the past year. We've been facing the enemy that we call COVID, that's weighed on us, altered our daily lives, even claim the lives of some people that we love and care for. Maybe the enemy is cancer. Maybe the enemy is an addiction. Maybe the enemy is a sin that we recognize and know in our lives that we're trying to break free of, but we just continue to struggle against it. We all face enemies, an injury that we have, a hurt that we carry, a relationship that is so strained that we're just not sure what to do. How long O Lord must I continue to hurt? How long O Lord must my heart be ripped out every time I speak to that person? How long will this pain that just never goes away continue to torment me? God, I need to hear from you. Because right now, this enemy is the only thing I can see.
Maybe you've been there. Maybe you've had one of those hardships in life where it is so all-consuming, it's the only thing you can think about. Every waking moment is consumed and filled with that situation that ache, that pain that hurt, so much so that you lose sight of everything else. I think the Psalmist was at that point, that whatever they were facing was so all-consuming that they lost sight of the fact that God was still right there. With an angry fist, the Psalmist cries out God, how long. And God waits patiently, gently and lovingly.
The Psalmist, free of some of that pent up frustration and anger, says, ‘God, you're my God, I need you to hear me, I need you to consider my situation right now, because it's not just me, but it's you and me together in this and your reputation on the line.’ And God may still listen in silence, but yet God is still right there. And I suspect in those moments when the Psalmist, when you, when I are experiencing those gut-wrenching pains, God is there hurting with us. God doesn't step into this moment and say, ‘There, there, my boy, David, everything is gonna be alright.’ God doesn't snap his fingers and solve whatever the problem is. And yet God is right there.
And maybe, maybe the perspective and the awareness of the Psalm has changed between verses four and five. Maybe after having the situation that it weighed so heavily, moved aside or pulled back, just a little bit. The Psalmist’s eyes were opened. That yes, the situation, this enemy, this challenge, whatever it is, it's still looming over me, but God is right here with me as well. Maybe you've been in those moments as well, where it seems that all is lost and there is no hope to be found. But on that journey, you've discovered that God has been there all along. The Psalmist remembers back. God, I trusted in your steadfast love, so here and now, my heart shall rejoice in your salvation, and I will sing to the Lord. The God who was accused became the God who was claimed. And became the God who was praised.
And I think that can happen in your life and in mine. Even when our situation, even when the challenge, the struggle, the hurt, the pain isn't gone. I think that sometimes it takes us being honest with God to clear our mind and open our eyes to know that God is there. That God is big enough and has thick enough skin for us to tell God what we think and how we feel. That God maybe doesn't have to act or even speak a word for our hearts to be turned and like the Psalmist, be able to lift our voices and praise to this God who is always at our side. This Psalm definitely is a lament. As I said, it's only six verses, but in the span of those six verses, we go from this lament, this disorientation, to a re-orientation to the ability to praise God in spite of whatever we're facing.
May you remember that none of your enemies, no matter what face they have or what diagnosis or problem they present, there is no enemy that you will face, that is greater than the God, who is always with you. How long, O Lord, will You hide Your face from me? Now, if we're gonna answer it, the answer is, not at all. Just because we didn't see, it doesn't mean that God wasn't there. And he always will be.