By Shelby Skiles | March 2019 WBS Devotional
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42 ESV)
It’s no secret that the book of Psalms is meant to instruct us. There are psalms of praise, thanksgiving, remembrance, and also sorrow. These psalms focusing on the writers’ sorrows are called “lament psalms.” There are 59 of them, the most of any genre of Psalms.
Discouragement and sorrow are going to happen in our lives; they are unavoidable. Grief, loss, death, anger, and jealousy are all part of this human condition we find ourselves in. Our losses may be great or small, and yet they affect our lives in ways that are specific to each of us.
The sheer number of stories in the Bible about suffering serves as an encouragement to us that we are not alone. We aren’t the first people to experience illness, famine, natural disasters, infidelity, the death of a child or spouse, infertility…the list goes on. Sufferings like these have been happening since the Fall in Genesis 3, when sin entered the world.
My daughter, Sophie, should be celebrating her fourth birthday this month, but she’s been gone for over a year. Cancer took her from us two months before she turned three. This year, another birthday will be celebrated and remembered without a cake, without presents, and without her smiling face. I’ve learned that in the weeks and days leading up to these “anniversary days,” I feel like I’m lost in the woods without a map or flashlight. My tendency is to just feel my way through them until the darkness lifts and the sun starts to shine again.
There are times in every believer’s life when it seems like God has left you alone in the woods. God seems absent, and you feel lost and far away from Him and His grace. If only you had a light to shine that would show the way back out of the woods. You long to hear His voice, that you might know He is still with you and that He might show you the way. Instead, there is only silence. At least, it can seem that way when you are in deep sorrow and suffering.
Has God really left you, or is there some other reason for His silence? Have you done something to drive God away? The psalmist probably struggled with these same questions as he wrote Psalm 42. In his response to his suffering, he didn’t presume to speak for God but rather lamented his feelings of being lost as he searched for the One who heals all pain.
Here are some observations on the psalmist’s lament:
He longed for God. Like single-mindedness of a thirsty animal searching for water, all he could do was think of God. Perhaps God’s perceived silence drove his desire. His soul was spiritually dry, and he pled for the Living Water to give him a reprieve.
When we are in the midst of sorrow, it’s easy to feel this way. We are so emotionally and mentally spent that we don’t even have the energy to pray. Sometimes there are no words, and we long for God to just take the suffering away.
He remembered times of praise and worship. Though the psalmist was unable to worship in the way that he used to (v. 4), he looked back on those times with longing. He knew God was not literally absent from his life although, in his suffering, it felt that way. Remembering these times gave him hope.
Remembering all of the times that God has been faithful in our lives is important when we are experiencing loss. We can get so focused on how horrible things are right now that we forget all of the good things He has done for us and how faithful He will always be.
He felt forgotten by God. He was depressed, and depression can lead to all kinds of negative thinking, including doubt. His tears said to him, “Where is your God?”
Isn’t that true of suffering in our lives? We ask, “Why did God let this happen?” “Where was God when my child was dying?” “How could a good God let such terrible things happen?” Doubt creeps in with sorrow and can be combatted only with faith. Scriptures like Romans 8:18, Isaiah 40:31, Isaiah 43:2, and 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 can encourage us that suffering is not all there is, that Jesus will and already has redeemed all of it even though we can’t see that in the midst of the dark woods.
Despite his suffering and depression, the psalmist looked past God’s silence with faith and proclaimed in the continuing of Psalm 43, “Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.”
God’s Word is the light that overpowers the darkness of being lost in the woods of suffering and sorrow. His infinite promises and the many examples in Scripture of His deliverance are where we should turn in our times of doubt and sadness.
God may use times of silence to deepen our desire for Him and to grow our faith. Maybe God is using this to bring you into an even more wonderful understanding of Himself and what He has for you.
Father God, thank You that You are a good Father and that all of Your plans for us are always good at all times. Thank You that Your Son, Jesus, sacrificed Himself so that our sorrows and suffering could be redeemed with our sin. I ask that You give me the grace to get through the hard days of my life. On days when loss and sorrow seem to overtake me, bring your Word to my mind and encourage me, Lord. Help me to heal in sorrow and to always see that You are always in control. In Your Holy name, Amen.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
What is your initial reaction when the suffering of any kind comes your way?
How can you be intentional to seek the Lord and not let the doubt of His presence in your life take over during hard times?