Monday, July 3, 2017

“How Long?” (Psalm 13)

Who voices what we will not say out loud?

I think that one of the greatest difficulties of faith are those moments in our lives when we are stuck in the silence and isolation of feeling as if God has abandoned us.  Those moments in which we look around in our times of need and cannot find God anywhere . . . that God has turned away . . . ignored us.  Those moments when we feel alone.

The reason that I think that this is among the greatest difficulties of faith is because we are taught from a young age that ours is a God that never abandons us . . . that ours is a God who is always with us in the good times and in the bad times . . . that listens to us constantly and hears our every ache, pain, hope, joy, and concern.  We are taught that we should never . . . ever . . . believe otherwise.  God is always with us.  Thus, we are also taught that we should not complain or moan and groan . . . lament in a way, in those moments and times in our lives when we feel lost and abandoned by God.  Such complaining, pleading, and whining is seen as a weakness of faith . . . a sign of faithlessness.

Therein lies the problem.  On the one hand we are taught that God is always with us and caring for us.  On the other hand, all of us experience those moments when we feel isolated and forgotten by God because God is not present to us . . . or at least not in the way that we expect.  To express such feelings of isolation . . . of abandonment . . . is to commit a sin of faithlessness . . . to expose a weakness in our beliefs and faith.  Such expressions are not well received among the faithful.  Thus we keep it to ourselves . . . we become silent in our isolation.  The silence echoes in our hearts and minds, and we hurt.  Is this feeling not something that we express in our prayers each week when we ask God to hear those prayers that we can only share with God?

So, I again ask, who will voice what we will not say out loud?

Luckily, this morning, we have the psalmist speaking for us.  Four times in this short psalm we hear the writer ask the question of God: How long?  The psalmist wants to know how long God will hide . . . how long God will forget . . . how long God will make the writer struggle with all of these thoughts and doubts . . . and, how long will God allow those who see the whole thing as folly to gloat over the writer.  This is definitely a person who is struggling through some difficult times . . . who is feeling isolated from God . . . who wallows in the silence as God does not respond.  The result is that the writer feels a deep sense of sorrow . . . what has been taught is not stacking up with what is being experienced.  Thus it is that the writer wants to know from God: How long!

Don’t we all?

This is quite a quandary of faith.  One that--if we are going to be honest with ourselves--we have all been in.  We have all experienced those moments in our lives and faith when we have felt that we have been separated and isolated from God.  Moments when we felt that the words we uttered in prayer were echoed off empty walls and returned to us in deafening silence.  Moments when we questioned our faith . . . questioned our God.

Those moments have come when we have been hit with crisis in our lives.  It could be our health . . . our finances . . . relationships . . . any number of things where it seems as if life is just merrily moving along and we are suddenly confronted with problems and issues that throw us for a loop.  The immensity of such situations are overwhelming.  In such times what do we do?  We reach out to God . . . we reach out to God, but God does not respond.  God is not there.  A sense of panic fills our very being.

In our panic, the faithful tells us to “hang in there” . . . that God will take care of us . . . that everything will be alright.  No one wants to hear us in our panic, thus it is that our panic is greeted with pat answers meant to sound thoughtful, but are really meant to pacify us.  So we become silent and crawl deep within our isolation.  What we really want to do is to scream out to God: How long!

We want God to know that we are scared.

We want God to come and take away our fear to makes us well once again.  To make things the way that they have always been.  

But, we keep silent . . . after all, we do not want to appear to be unfaithful.

Well, I want to assure you . . . in such times of expressing the honest feelings of being isolated . . . of feeling as if pleas of concern and needs of assurance are falling on deaf ears . . . of being lost and forgotten . . . that you are not faithless or unfaithful.  No, in fact, it is because of your faith and faithfulness that you are even able to utter such expressions.  It is all a part of the faith journey.

And, yes, even though it feels as if God has disappeared . . . God is still with us.  God is beside us in our waiting.  God feels our sorrow . . . feels our pain . . . God never abandons us.  Unfortunately, the dark night of the soul is necessary to help us see and appreciate the light of the dawn.  We have to learn to endure the silence and isolation no matter how difficult it might be.  It is in the struggle that we become stronger . . . stronger in who God created us to be . . . stronger in our commitment and love for God . . . stronger in our faith.

In that we can rejoice.

As the psalmist expresses what we won’t say out loud, we also see a shift in the psalmist’s words.  There is a movement from anguish and sorrow in the author’s words to words of confidence and hope.  The psalmist finds confidence in God . . . in the situation . . . and, in himself.  The psalmist sings out: “. . . but I trust . . . I will rejoice . . . I will sing . . . because . . .”  

The psalmist proclaims: “And I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”

Through this period of isolation and silence the psalmist finds strength in what is learned . . . hope for a new direction . . . the ability to leave the past behind . . . and, self-assurance in who he is as a creation and child of God.  And, so it is for us.

Who will voice what we will not say out loud . . . what we will not say out loud to others or God?

We will.

We will because that, too, is a part of our faith . . . a part of who we are as a faithful child of God.  God wants all of us . . . even our doubts.  To hide them or bury them is--in my opinion--to be unfaithful.  We are among the faithful, and it is okay to ask God: How long?

My mother always liked to tell me when I was struggling in life “that this, too, shall pass”.  And, she was right.  In the passing I learned lessons and received blessings.  This is the knowledge that shifted the psalmist from anguish and sorrow to hope and joy.  May we have such faith to be open and honest with God in all of our lives . . . God really wants to know.  Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Great sermon, John. I didn't hear it on Sunday. Too tired I think from being up a lot in the night. Glad I had a chance to read it.