Monday, 12 October 2015

Questions From the Furnace

The psalmists ask a lot of questions.

For example; 

Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
How long must I take counsel in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
Why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
You are the God in whom I take refuge, why have you rejected me?
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
Have you not rejected us, O God?
O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
When will you comfort me?
How long must your servant endure?

I love these words because they are so real. They are full of the intensity of emotion and of brokeness- they are honesty and hurt entangled together with threads of faith. They are words that see the world as it is, and plead with God for mercy, for Himself- in the light of raw experience.

Do these words reveal doubt? Maybe, in some ways. But I think they reveal more faith. They show us the kind of God the psalmist believes in.

Because God is his ever present help, he can ask why God seems far off. If he believed in an aloof deity he'd never wrestle with the question. Having known the kindness and gentle provision of the Lord, he deeply feels the pang of his apparent distance in time of trouble; the Lord promises to bring hope, and life, and healing- this is the foundation for the psalmist asking why he feels so comfortless. Because the Lord is a God of redemption- of promise, of covenant, of unshakeable and awesome faithfulness, the psalmist is perplexed that his deliverance has not yet come.

He asks, "why have you forsaken me?" in the light of God's promise that he won't.
He asks, "why do you hide your face?" because he believes in a God who makes himself known- in clarity and glory and intimacy, in the glories of the skies and in the precepts of his word.
He asks why God forgets his suffering because He believes that the LORD cares; that God is mindful of his people, mind blowing as that may be!
He asks why his soul is cast away, because He believed- and believes God's promise never to reject Him.

It seems to me that big, difficult questions aren't always the fruit of doubt. Often they're what's produced on the battleground for faith.

In times of suffering, some of the pain and struggle would ease if we just stopped believing that God was good. If we just let go of his promise of tender care, of light, of life- then the experience of darkness would be difficult, but we'd have one less struggle. But, I think, probably, it's better to battle with God- to ask the big questions- than to let go of difficult promises when our life experience casts them in to shadow. In times where the questions feel big, there's a deep, steady- perhaps muted- joy in knowing the kind of Lord whose unending love and dependable care makes us ask questions of our broken, loveless experience.

The psalmist asks,

What is man, that you are mindful of him? The son of man, that you care for him?

Because he asks this question- he can ask the others too. In the darkness, when we bring our questions to God- we cling to this promise dearly. Because he cares for me, because he loves me, because he is mindful of all my ways- I'll tell him the truth; I'll not let go of his promises; I'll ask him my questions.

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