25 November – 1 December 2018.
When things go wrong in our lives, we often want to know why. Why did it happen? And if God really loves us, why didn’t he protect us?
The problem is that there are no easy answers to this “why” question. Maybe that’s why in the biblical laments the writers rarely ask this question. Instead they take a different approach – one we see in Psalm 80.
The first step the psalm writers take is not to ask “why”, but to shout at God to get up and act! In our suffering it often feels like God has fallen asleep on the job and let these bad things happen. So verses 1–2 start with the plea to God to wake up and listen, to stir up his mighty power and do the work he is supposed to be doing for his people.
The second step is then one that often surprises us: the writers protest against God’s failures. God is supposed to be the creator, the ruler of all things, the one who cares for his people and who uses his almighty power to protect them. God is supposed to be in control. And that means that when things go wrong, it’s right to blame God! The writer repeatedly reminds God of his work responsibilities and role, directly and repeatedly saying an accusing “you” to God: You, God, saved Israel from Egypt, you gave them their land to live in, you created this new people, you helped them to grow, and you are supposed to be in control. So when things fall apart, the writer can just as clearly accuse God of failing in his responsibilities: Now, God, you are destroying the people, you are feeding the people with sorrows, you are making them drink tears, you are making the people a laughing stock among their enemies, you are letting the people be scorned. If the first rule of leadership is that everything is the leader’s fault, then if God really is the boss, Israel’s disasters really are God’s fault.
This very normal type of Jewish prayer is strange to us. We don’t often dare to pray like this, and we don’t dare to accuse God in these ways. But what we see here is actually a very deep faith that refuses to give up on God. When people feel that God has disappointed them, some take that as a reason to abandon God and their faith too. But the psalm writer refuses to do this. Instead he stresses that even in suffering God remains the only hope for him and his people. Despite their problems they will continue to believe in God and trust in him – and they will continue to call on God to wake up, get up, and save them. So over and over in verses 3, 7, 14, 17 and 19 the writer calls on God to finally act now and save his people.
What we see in this “protest psalm” is a faith that strongly refuses to give up hope in God, even when things go wrong. We see a faith that knows that God is our only hope, our only saviour and protector. And we see a faith that refuses to believe that God can’t or won’t help. When we are going through troubles, these are all great lessons for us to remember too.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis