What do you do when God’s HIDDEN? When he’s SILENT? Nowhere to be found. And everything that happens doesn’t seem FAIR? What do you do when you’re DISAPPONTED WITH GOD?
At Paul and Karen’s wedding a month or two ago. I was talking to a farmer who was nearly bankrupt because of the drought. He hadn’t had decent rain for about five years, and hadn’t really had any income for about three. He and his family had been praying for that whole time that God would send rain. But God HADN’T. He was HIDDEN.
Then there’s Paul Beringer. A few years ago Paul had another bout of severe depression that lasted the best part of 12 months and required hospitalisation. Paul and Jenny spent hours before God praying for his healing. But for a long time, it seemed like God was SILENT.
Then there’s Diane’s mum, Jan – trapped in a broken body after surviving a brain aneurism. And both Jan, and Dean and Di, have been praying for a couple of years that God would heal and restore Jan. But God’s chosen NOT to. It doesn’t seem FAIR.
Or what about Daphne? Her daughter Julie’s struggled with drugs and depression for years and years. And it’s taken a terrible toll on Daphne and Spence, as well as on the grandkids. Daphne’s poured out her heart to God for YEARS. But it just seems like it’s one step forward, then two steps back. Why doesn’t God DO something?
Another of my friends has been struggling with unwanted homosexual feelings for a decade. He knows God’s there, and he knows how God wants him to think and to live. He’s prayed for healing, had counselling, tried all sorts of solutions. But nothing seems to work. It all seems so unfair and pointless. And he’s tempted to just give up.
Why can’t God just STEP IN, and SAVE THE DAY? FIX MY SITUATION? Stop HIDING.
These are difficult questions. Ones God’s people have wrestled with for the whole of history. And the odds are/ they’ve been times in YOUR life when you’ve been disappointed with God.
But the problem is we don’t like to MENTION them. Because it doesn’t seem RIGHT. It’s not what we assume the Christian life is about. It’s outside the normal, obedient Christian experience.
We feel like everyone else has their life together except us. And that no one else ever asks the same sorts of questions, or has the same obstacles and doubts.
We think there must be something wrong with US if we’re feeling like this. And, that if only we had more FAITH, or read our BIBLES more. Or prayed more. Or prayed using the right WORDS. Or got our THEOLOGY right – read the right books. Then everything would turn out better. And God would SHOW himself. He’d answer our prayers. Restore a bit of JUSTICE. Give us faith and joy. Fix up our relationships, or our bodies.
We THINK that way. But it’s not because that’s what THE REST OF THE BIBLE teaches. Or even the lesson of LIFE ITSELF. And I don’t think it’s what Psalm 102 teaches EITHER.
In Psalm 102, we’ve got someone asking exactly these sorts of questions. Pleading with God to intervene. To show himself. To change his situation. To RESTORE him.
2. All alone? (1-11)
We don’t know who he is. The title just says he’s an afflicted man. Who’s faint and who pours out his lament – his complaint – before God.
And that’s what we get in the first 11 verses. V1.
Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry for help come to you. 2 Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.
And then we get some clues about what his problem is. There’s a PHYSICAL aspect to it. V3. “My bones burn like glowing embers”. Or v5.
5 Because of my loud groaning I am reduced to SKIN AND BONES.
But there’s an EMOTIONAL aspect to it as well. He’s MOURNING. V9.
9 For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with TEARS
And there’s a SOCIAL aspect as well. He’s probably physically sick. And emotionally down. But to top it all off, he hasn’t got a friend in the world. V8.
8 All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
He’s so miserable, he can’t even SLEEP. He’s so uncomfortable, he just lies awake at night. And it seems like he’s the ONLY ONE in the WHOLE WORLD. He’s all alone. V6.
6 I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. 7 I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof.
The picture’s of a buzzard, or an owl. Something that hunts at night, all on its own. Sitting there in the dark, the whole world sleeping peacefully – EXCEPT for YOU.
Perhaps you’ve had that experience. You can’t sleep. You’re miserable, or perhaps in so much physical pain you can’t relax and get comfortable. And you just feel ALONE. And you imagine nobody CARES about you. Like a bird alone on a roof.
That’s what this guy’s feeling like. And he’s laying the blame squarely at the feet of God. V10.
10 because of YOUR GREAT WRATH, for you have TAKEN ME UP AND THROWN ME ASIDE.
He feels like a floppy rag-doll that a child’s picked up and loved. And then got bored of, and thrown into a corner. Worthless and unwanted.
I saw some incredible nature footage of a killer whale. It caught a seal pup. But rather than kill it, and eat it. It was playing with it, still alive, flinging it around like a beach ball. Getting under it, and flipping it up, as it somersaulted through the air, landing with a splash. The seal, just paralysed with fear or pain.
That’s how this guy feels. God’s playing with him. He’s God’s punching bag.
Where is God? Why doesn’t he intervene? Why’s he hiding?
That’s the theme of the FIRST half of the Psalm. On an INDIVIDUAL level, there’s only QUESTIONS for God. But there are some things he IS sure about.
4. Hope for the future of God’s people (12-28)
Have a look at v12. It’s the turning point of the Psalm. He may not know why God isn’t obvious for him personally. But look what he IS certain of. His hope in the future of God’s people. V12.
12 But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; YOUR RENOWN ENDURES THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS. 13 You WILL arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come.
Man is finite. But God is INFINITE. We saw that last week in Psalm 90. But this is saying something MORE. Not only does God EXIST for ever. But he’s been INVOLVED with all GENERATIONS. He’s DEALT with his people down through history. And his RENOWN endures through ALL GENERATIONS. He’s got a history of coming through for his people.
4. Lessons from History
That’s the lesson we can learn from Bible history. So let’s have a quick think about it. What DOES history teach us about God’s dealings? Does he ALWAYS make himself obvious to individuals? Spoken? Acted with justice? How HAS he dealt with human beings?
At the start of the Bible, God was CLOSELY involved with Adam and Eve – gave them guidance. Walked with them. Told them what to do, and how to do it. He wasn’t unfair OR silent OR hidden.
But did that mean Adam and Even FOLLOWED him? Of course not. Closeness and guidance didn’t seem to be the answer.
For the first half of Genesis, God is VERY obvious. Showing justice. Sending floods, confusing languages.
But by the second half he seems to be working behind the scenes much more. He’s more distant and silent. Things seems to be MORE UNFAIR. Think about Joseph. He sees a dream and gets chucked in a well and sold into slavery for his troubles. He resists sexual temptation and gets thrown in jail. He does a good turn for a friend, but is left to rot in prison. It would be easy for Joseph to ask the same sorts of tough questions – where is God? Does he CARE? Is he HIDDEN? Is he UNFAIR?
But in the end God works THROUGH the difficult times. He saves Jacob’s family from starvation, and reunited them to Joseph. And Joseph can say that what men meant for evil, God meant it for good.
And that’s how Genesis finishes. And then into Exodus, and we skip four hundred years. As Israel grows into a nation. But a nation of slaves in Egypt. Four hundred years where God is hidden. There’s no VOICE. No ACTION. It’s SO UNFAIR the people cry!
But then God gets ACTIVE again. He speaks and works through Moses. Incredible miracles. Amazing deliverance from slavery. God’s incredibly OBVIOUS!
But does that mean the people FOLLOW him? No, they complain and grumble. They worship idols.
When God shows himself, it doesn’t seem to mean his people follow him any better. If ANYTHING, the MORE God ACTS, the more DISOBEDIENT his people BECOME.
(Perhaps that’s why God doesn’t always reveal himself at our beck and call. Perhaps his idea of what’s GOOD for us is different to ours.)
Let’s keep going. Through the reigns of David and Solomon. Who builds him a temple. And God’s presence enters the temple for everyone to see. The whole nation’s there watching. His glory so brilliant, even the priests can’t enter the Holy Place. You couldn’t ASK for a more obvious sign that God is THERE.
But before long Solomon’s gone off the rails, the nation descends into idolatry and disobedience. And God sends them into exile.
Which is probably where this song is written. V16 talks about REBUILDING ZION (or Jerusalem). And v20 talks about God hearing the groans of the prisoners and releasing those condemned to death.
And God seems to have disappeared again. And so this guy writes of his disappointment with God.
But let’s jump over the exile. Let’s learn some MORE lessons from history. The Jews DO return from exile. But still under the reign of Persia, and then Syria comes on the scene and then Greece, then Rome. Living in the land, but answering to a foreign king. Paying taxes that build up another nation.
And for all of that time God is silent. ANOTHER 400 years. No rescuers. No kings, No prophets. It’s the time period between the end of the OT and the start of the New. The dark period.
How often would people have brought these same complaints and laments to God. “Why are you HIDDEN?” Why are you SILENT? It’s not fair!”
More in a moment on how God breaks THAT period of silence.
But back to our Psalmist. As he thinks back over history, he sees that God DOES come good. He may not answer every individual complaint. And he may go for a period of time seeming distant and hidden. But he DOES act for his people. And so the writer can say confidently,(v12)
Your renown endures through all generations. 13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
And if we were to ask this guy a couple of crucial questions, here’s how I reckon he’d answer;
Will God fix every problem and heal every individual sickness? No!
Will he rebuild Zion, and bring his people into glory? ….Absolutely!
And as the writer looks forward to God’s action, as he looks beyond his own individual circumstances, there are three targets that he’s got in his sights.
Target 1: Return from exile
The first and most obvious one is a return from exile. We’ve already mentioned that.
And he looks forward to the day when God will answer the cries of his people, and restore some justice. In fact, he even writes a song for the occasion. Look at v18.
18 Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the LORD:
19 “The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”
21 So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
22 when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the LORD.
It’s a bit hard to imagine in HIS time, but he’s confident God WILL hear the cries of the generations to come. And when he DOES. He’s got just the song for them to sing. A song about God SEEING. And God HEARING. And God RELEASING.
The Lord LOOKED DOWN from heaven – he’s not hidden. He HEARS the groans of the prisoners. And he sets them FREE. He’s not silent. He’s NOT unfair.
That’s the FIRST target for God’s action.
God may not fix this individual problem, but he’ll bring his people out of exile.
Target 2: A new heavens and earth
But there’s a second target that’s not so obvious. That God will intrude into THE WORLD, and bring justice in a FINAL AND COMPLETE way. Not just for Israel.
One day, he’ll wrap up THIS world, and bring in a NEW heavens and earth. You can see it MOST clearly at the end of the Psalm. V26. The heavens and the earth will perish;
“THEY WILL ALL WEAR OUT LIKE A GARMENT. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. 27 But you remain the same, and YOUR YEARS WILL NEVER END. 28 The children of your servants will LIVE IN YOUR PRESENCE; their descendants will be ESTABLISHED before you.”
God’s CREATION won’t last forever/ …but his CREATURES WILL. He’ll make a NEW world that WON’T wear out. Just like God himself. A world that WON’T groan and cry. Where there WON’T be injustice. Where God won’t be DISTANT, but we’ll live in his presence. And this Psalm catches a glimpse of it.
It’s a vision that’s found in OTHER parts of the OT too. Like Isaiah 65:17-25. Where Isaiah longs for a new heavens and new earth where there won’t be an infant who only lives a few days, where the wolf and the lamb will feed together, where the lion will eat straw like the ox.
God may not fix this individual problem, but he’ll CERTAINLY bring in his new heavens and new earth.
Target 3: God’s action in history – Christ
But there’s a THIRD target in view. And it’s probably one the HUMAN writer’s not even aware of. But it’s there in this Ps because it’s God’s words.
You see, God’s ULTIMATE intrusion into history. His definitive answer to the question of whether he’s hidden and unfair and silent. Is the sending of Jesus. Sent, at the end of 400 years of silence. Not to rescue his people from Egypt. Or even from exile. But to set free prisoners from SIN AND DEATH. SPIRITUAL Rescue. ETERNAL rescue. To release them from the curse of God’s judgment. It’s the song the Psalmist wrote – V19.
19 “The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, 20 to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.”
Exactly what Jesus said he’d come to do. Lk 4.18
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to PROCLAIM FREEDOM FOR THE PRISONERS AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT FOR THE BLIND, TO RELEASE THE OPPRESSED,
Jesus is THE MEANS GOD USES to set prisoners free. And the Psalmist is looking forward to it. 700 years early.
And did you notice who’s going to SING it? V18. “A people not yet created”.
Jesus came to create a NEW people. Not one ethnic group. A nation like Israel. But people from EVERY nation and tongue and language. Gentiles AND Jews. To draw them together around the cross. As ONE people.
That’s US. This is a PSALM written for US to sing!
You can see the Psalm has hints of this idea in OTHER places too. Of a kingdom bigger than just ISRAEL. Like v15.
15 The nations will fear the name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
21 So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem 22 when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the LORD.
The Psalmist is probably thinking about the EARTHLY Mt Zion. But the echo in these verses is of the HEAVENLY Jerusalem.
The city that God’s people are headed for. People from every nation. The city that’s been won for us by his son, Jesus. Heb 12:22 puts it like this.
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant,
That’s the perspective of God’s purposes that takes the LONG view. God may not fix this individual problem, but he’s CERTAINLY sent Jesus, and he’ll CERTAINLY bring his people into the heavenly Jerusalem.
And so, when you’re tempted to ask those questions – Where are you, God? Why don’t you ANSWER me? Where’s the JUSTICE? Then let yourself be encouraged by the argument of this Psalm. God may not intrude into YOUR situation. At least not in the timing YOU’D like to see. Or in the WAY you’d like.
It’s one of the reasons you come to church. To be reminded to see God’s plans from a heavenly perspective. TO see how he works for ALL his people. Over ALL of history. So that, when we’re tempted to be disappointed with God, we might be able to join in and sing, together with all creation,
“Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. 4 Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”