Where is God in all this? Is an inescapable question for people with faith. It was posed in an article in the Guardian in early January 2005 following the Boxing Day Tsunami of 20041. The responses according to the tsunami, according to the article, included; “Christians stressed God’s presence with the suffering, Hindus reconciled themselves to fate, the Chief Rabbi composed a prayer and the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote an article for the Sunday Telegraph.”2
But, whether the question, in our time, is asked about a natural disaster, a car crash, or a mass shooting, it’s not a new one. The writer of Psalm 10 posed the same question when he said “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? However, what in ‘English bibles’ is numbered as Psalm 10 is, in the Hebrew bible, the second ‘half’ of one longer acrostic Psalm that begins with Psalm 9.
It was the heading of Psalm 9 in the New International Version that started my ‘Where is God in all this’ thinking. The heading says “For the director of music. To the tune of ‘The death of a Son’. A psalm of David”3 King David had experienced the death of at least 3 of his children, the first baby born to Bathsheba, Amnon and Absalom. None of them had died in ‘good’ circumstances and David’s grief is described as extreme in the first and last instances. So where is God when things go wrong and what can this ‘extended’ Psalm say to help and in particular as we ‘pray for help’?
First, the psalmist’s confidence is in the character of God, Ps 9 v10 “Those who know your name trust in you, for you Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” This is not a statement about ‘happy endings’ but about the experienced commitment of God to the people who trust in Him. Most of the rest of the psalm is taken up with examples of things God is, “a refuge for the righteous” or things God does “The Lord reigns for ever”. Based on his understanding of God’s character David makes a choice which is declared in Ps 9 v1 “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with my whole heart”.
But the declaration at the beginning of Ps9 does not preclude the honest questioning at the start of the second section (Ps10v1) “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” What follows is David’s description of life as he sees it, with a vivid insight into the thought patterns and acts of the violent, atheist, bully and thief (Ps10v3) “he boasts about the cravings of his heart”, (v9) “he lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent.”
Then psalmist turns his thoughts away from what the ‘wicked do’ and back to the God he knows, as he remembers, (v14) “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.” and ends with his experience of God as he says “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.”
David has declared God knows what is happening in our world and intervenes, and he has been honest in his questions to God.
God values and honours the honest expression of our feelings and wants to help us in our grief and confusion.
Our facing grief in the light of ‘who God is’ gives Him ‘room to work’ in our lives and come ‘alongside’ us.
For the director of music. To the tune of ‘The Death of the Son’. A psalm of David.
1 I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.
3 My enemies turn back;
they stumble and perish before you.
4 For you have upheld my right and my cause,
sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.
5 You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.
6 Endless ruin has overtaken my enemies,
you have uprooted their cities;
even the memory of them has perished.
7 The Lord reigns for ever;
he has established his throne for judgment.
8 He rules the world in righteousness
and judges the peoples with equity.
9 The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
11 Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done.
12 For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.
13 Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may declare your praises
in the gates of Daughter Zion,
and there rejoice in your salvation.
15 The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.
16 The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
17 The wicked go down to the realm of the dead,
all the nations that forget God.
18 But God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.
19 Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
let the nations be judged in your presence.
20 Strike them with terror, Lord;
let the nations know they are only mortal.
1 Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
3 He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
4 In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
5 His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by[b] him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
6 He says to himself, ‘Nothing will ever shake me.’
He swears, ‘No one will ever do me harm.’
7 His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
8 He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
9 like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
11 He says to himself, ‘God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.’
12 Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
‘He won’t call me to account’?
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked man;
call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
that would not otherwise be found out.
16 The Lord is King for ever and ever;
the nations will perish from his land.
17 You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.
- Psalm 10:1 Psalms 9 and 10 may originally have been a single acrostic poem in which alternating lines began with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In the Septuagint they constitute one psalm.
New International Version – UK (NIVUK)
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Lord, I want to make the choice to give you thanks, please help me. I know that you are good and that you have done wonderful things.
You have helped me when I have been under pressure. You have brought truth to light and people have been defeated as their own scheming has been brought out into the open.
Thank you Lord that you do not abandon those who trust in you, but are with them in the middle of trouble. You helped David when his children died, you stood with the widow of Nain4 at the funeral of her son and brought Lazarus5 back to life.
Lord you are a shelter6 and a stronghold but, why do you seem to stand back and hide yourself when trouble comes? Some of the people who are attacking me are so arrogant. They done believe in you and actually boast there is no God.
Father please will you act and defeat their lies and threats. Please don’t let them ‘get away with it’. Thank you that you do see, that nothing is hidden from you and with your help I can know peace.
In Jesus Name, Amen.
3The is debate about the meaning of the Hebrew that has been translated in the way I have quoted NICOT ‘The Book of Psalms note 5 page 130’ but the point is that my thinking was provoked!
5John 11: 17-27