18–24 March 2018.
The Bible is not just a book, it’s a library. It’s a collection of many different books written by many different people in different places and different times. Those different authors often have different ways of seeing God and different ways of understanding their experiences with God. We see that in Psalm 44.
Many of us know the general story of the Old Testament: that God entered into an agreement with the Israelites, the Israelites failed to do what God wanted them to do, and so God punishes the Israelites by allowing them to be killed, conquered, and taken into exile. This may have been a common way of understanding Israel’s history, but it wasn’t the only way.
In Psalm 44 we see an example of Israel’s “Protest Tradition”. It’s called this because in this tradition the Israelites protest against God, defending their innocence, and insisting that they never broke the covenant or disobeyed God. In v. 17, the people cry out in anguish to God, insisting that “we had not forgotten you, we had not violated your covenant.” In this tradition, the problem in this relationship is not the Israelites, but God. God is supposed to care for them, but God has let them down. So in vv. 23–24 they accuse God of sleeping on the job, not caring about them, and not being there in their time of greatest need.
Don’t we often feel the same way? Like Job, don’t we often go through times of terrible suffering and hardship knowing that we haven’t done anything to deserve such pain? At those times we too call out to God and demand to know why he isn’t helping, why he isn’t here for us. What we see in Psalm 44 is that it’s ok to ask these questions. God understands our pain and he understands when we want to yell at him.
But what Psalm 44 also shows us is that even in those times of great suffering, even when people doubted God, they still held onto him. The Israelites doubted God, they accused God, but they didn’t abandon him. Instead, in v. 26, they appealed to God even more and demanded his help: “Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love!”
There are many things we can’t understand in life, perhaps the biggest of which is why we suffer. We try hard to do everything right but things still go wrong. In those times of doubt and suffering, the Bible encourages us not to give up on God – because God is the only one who can save us. Instead, like the Israelites, the only thing we can do is to keep on praying and calling out to God: “Rise up and help us, God; rescue us because of your unfailing love!”
Pastor Stephen Lakkis