Occasional Reflection, July 16, 2022: Where’s God?

13 O Lord, I cry out to you.
    I will keep on pleading day by day.
14 O Lord, why do you reject me?
    Why do you turn your face from me?

15 I have been sick and close to death since my youth.
    I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors.
16 Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me.
    Your terrors have paralyzed me.
17 They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.
    They have engulfed me completely.
18 You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
    Darkness is my closest friend. —Psalm 88.13-18

As the war between the house of Saul and the house of David went on, Abner became a powerful leader among those loyal to Saul. One day Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, accused Abner of sleeping with one of his father’s concubines, a woman named Rizpah, daughter of Aiah.

Abner was furious. “Am I some Judean dog to be kicked around like this?” he shouted. “After all I have done for your father, Saul, and his family and friends by not handing you over to David, is this my reward—that you find fault with me about this woman? May God strike me and even kill me if I don’t do everything I can to help David get what the Lord has promised him!10 I’m going to take Saul’s kingdom and give it to David. I will establish the throne of David over Israel as well as Judah, all the way from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south.” 11 Ishbosheth didn’t dare say another word because he was afraid of what Abner might do.

12 Then Abner sent messengers to David, saying, “Doesn’t the entire land belong to you? Make a solemn pact with me, and I will help turn over all of Israel to you.” —2 Samuel 3.6-12

If you have had a relationship with God for long enough, you will surely have experienced a feeling similar to the psalmist’s above. You are rocking along and then all of a sudden disaster of some kind strikes. You cry out to God for help and relief, but hear and experience nothing but darkness.

Our psalm appointed for yesterday reflects the terror we feel when that happens. We accuse God of abandoning us and/or rejecting us. We tell ourselves that God does this because God is angry at us. In the psalmist’s day it was a commonly held belief that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Many of us still cling to that belief despite the warning of Job that that might not necessarily be the case in every instance. Because God allows bad things to happen to us doesn’t necessarily mean that God is punishing us. Unless we hear clearly from the Lord that he is indeed punishing us, we need to be very circumspect in our thinking about this.

All that notwithstanding, the fact remains that the psalmist despairs God has abandoned and rejected him forever. For those who believe in God, this is a terrifying prospect. And yet, the psalmist continues to reach out to God in prayer. Like St. Peter asked Christ, “Lord where else can we go? To whom can we turn?”

And then we read today’s OT lesson. Surely the players involved in this sad story would have been tempted to believe God had abandoned and rejected them. God had indeed rejected Saul and his line. There was prophetic confirmation of that reality. So why hadn’t Abner and Israel submitted to David’s kingly rule? Was Samuel really a false prophet?

The point is this. God’s will didn’t magically come about by God snapping his fingers and making it so, much as many of us expect God to act in this manner. God didn’t cause chaos for Ishbosheth, Ishbosheth caused his own chaos. Whether his accusations against Abner were true we are not told, but if they were it would have been a clear attempt by Abner to usurp Ishbosheth. Neither was Abner’s murder or Ishbosheth’s murder caused by God. Human agents were responsible for both treacherous acts. You can read about them later in the story above.

What God did do was use these evil acts to help accomplish his purpose of making David King over all Israel. The point here is that even in the midst of treachery, murder, duplicity, and chaos God was at work accomplishing his purposes. Unless the players and those surrounding the players were tuned firmly into God, God’s hand at work would have been hard to see. The psalmist surely would have understood this dynamic.

And so do we. I look at the chaos and lawlessness running rampant in many of our nation’s cities. I see the wicked fruits of the the sexual revolution coming to full fruition and making otherwise reasonable people act and talk like lunatics. I see green politics causing all kinds of suffering and hunger and want and I wonder if this nation will survive me. How can humans flourish with all this darkness swirling around us? Where are you God? Why are you not making things right? Why are the patients running the asylum??

So what to do? For Christians, the answer is to come together as God’s people in Christ and keep our eyes firmly fixed on Christ’s cross. As we saw on Thursday, that is the answer. As the NT audaciously proclaims, Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. It didn’t look that way to Christ’s followers that first Good Friday. It took a mighty act of God the Father raising Christ from the dead that first Easter Sunday to show them that God was still in control and the promises and proclamations of Christ were true. That hasn’t changed over the course of history.

But let’s be honest here. Many of us increasingly feel like the psalmist who wrote Psalm 88 above, and with good reason. But that isn’t the last word. God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. Christ rules, even in the midst of chaos to accomplish God’s will. That takes a good bit of faith, the kind you only develop by having a real relationship with the living Lord and studying his word contained in Scripture to learn how God has set about to rescue his good creation and creatures from ourselves and the Evil we have unleashed in our foolishness. We need to do this together as a family in Christ and to support each other because seeing Christ’s hand at work in our lives and his world is not always easy to see. Sometimes it is impossible. But his Death and Resurrection remind us in no uncertain terms that God is in charge and works through suffering and injustice to accomplish God’s will. Christ is the supreme exemplar of that dynamic and truth. And because it is true, one day those who put their hope and faith in Christ will see the reward for their faith and suffering in this mortal life. When that blessed day comes and Christ returns to finish his saving and healing work, these momentary trials and tribulations, awful and real as they were and are, will seem as nothing compared to the beauty, health, and life that will be part and parcel of God’s new heavens and earth.

—Mark 4.9