How Long, O Lord? (2) (Psalm 13)
The psalms come to us in a variety of spiritual colors. Some are glorious, green, glad-hearted hymns of praise. Others are filled with bright blue, unrelenting gratitude. There are psalms of confidence, of remembrance, wisdom psalms, kingship psalms, and even the crimson of imprecatory psalms that call for God's judgment against the wicked.
But nothing can compare with the dismal grey of the psalms of lament. These psalms are "the polar opposite of the hymn on the emotional spectrum" (Tremper Longman, 26). Their mood is unmistakable (see Psalms 3, 6, 12, 13, 26, 28, 30, 42, 43, 77, 142, just to mention a few).
Scholars have noted a distinct passion in these psalms, as the author pours out his complaint to God. It goes something like this:
"You don't care!"
But there's also a clear progression in such psalms that reflect the struggle and growth of the psalmist. They typically move from pain to praise, from sighing to singing; though helpless, the psalmist is never hopeless.
I can't imagine a more representative psalm of lament than Psalm 13. We saw in the previous meditation David's anguished cry, his lament, his pain and sighing, his palatable sense of God's absence when he needed him most (Ps. 13:1-2).
It is, however, in the midst of his deepest anguish, when all seems lost, that David breaks forth in prayer. But why? If it is really true that God has turned away, why pray to him? If God has forgotten, why bother? Yet, David does pray. He can't help but cry out to the God who, deep down, he knows is still there, loving him:
"Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death" (v. 3).
I doubt that David is talking about physical death. To "sleep the sleep of death" is most likely a reference to depression or some form of spiritual anguish.
Despair can often be seen in someone's face. Their voice may sound o.k., but their eyes betray them. My father was often able to discern if either I or my sister was sick, or perhaps attempting to conceal some sin, simply by looking into our eyes. If we didn't look well "in our eyes" we probably weren't. Evidently David's emotional anguish was visibly noticeable. He requests that God would restore a spiritual sparkle to his eyes. "O God, make my eyes gleam with your grace and mercy once again."
But more was at stake than just David's sense of well-being. God's reputation was on the line! David prays, "O Lord, don't give the enemy any excuse to blaspheme your name. Don't let them gloat over my condition and slander your name when they see the defeat of your servant" (see v. 4).
Sometimes the frustrations of the present threaten to undermine the trust that comes from remembering the past. We are so lost now that we forget what happened back then. "What good is yesterday when I'm hurting so badly today?"
That is where faith comes in. Faith in the God who we've seen act in the past renews our hope for the future. David knew it. So he makes a choice, the same choice you and I must make. He decides to entrust himself to God's pledge of undying love. Make David's confession of faith your own:
"But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me" (vv. 5-6).
Yes, on occasion God does seem hidden from view. His presence feels like a fast-fading memory. His love seems to have evaporated under the hot summer sun. When that happens, do what David did. Take yourself in hand, and contrary to every fiber of your being that demands you say otherwise, declare to the heavens: "But I trust in your unfailing love!"
God's love will not fail! It has not nor will it die. Though hidden from view, though far from what you're feeling, God's love for you lives. Go ahead if you want and punch me right in the nose! I may stop loving you (for the moment), but God won't.
Observe how David resolves to rejoice in God's salvation (deliverance), even though it has not yet come. He's still depressed. It's as if he says, "O God, I'm trusting in you to create the occasion when I can again look on your acts of deliverance and rejoice in your saving power."
From what he recalls of God's faithfulness in the past, there arises in his heart the calm of anticipation: "O God, you did it once before. I am confident you will do it again, because your love is unfailing!"
Let's remember that encouragement from the Lord sometimes comes in small doses. It's always there, but not always easy to discern at first glance. When lingering storm-clouds obscure the sun's rays, we begin to wonder: "Will I ever feel its warmth again?" Then we remind ourselves of the laws of nature and wait expectantly for the skies to break.
God's love for you always shines bright. But if clouds of pain and rejection and shame have for the moment blackened the sky, rest assured that gracious winds will again blow strong and the warmth of his passionate love will renew your once cold soul.
In anticipation, go ahead and sing like David did. Who knows, you just might hear God join you with a song of his own (Zeph. 3:17)!