D.A. Carson observes, “There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God.”
Carson’s words capture the essence of Psalm 44. The psalm begins by looking back at God’s goodness to the people of Israel, delivering them from slavery in Egypt and establishing them in the Promised Land (verses 1-8). But then the psalmist pours out a complaint about their present problems, wondering where God is now: “Yet you have rejected us and abased us, and have not gone out with our armies. You made us turn back from the foe, and our enemies have gotten spoil. You have made us like sheep for slaughter, and have scattered us among the nations” (verses 9-11). “You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face” (verses 13-15).
In his book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, Philip Yancey shares a story by “Lynn” that gets to the heart of the issue: “Unfortunately, my parents’ professed faith did not translate into their family life. About the age of eight I was molested by a relative, and I was emotionally and psychologically abused and neglected by both parents for as long as I can remember. I chose to cope by being a good girl, disappearing into the woodwork and performing perfectly, never acknowledging that I was in pain. Then at age nineteen I was involved in a horrible auto accident which took the life of my best friend. On the outside I clung to God with all my strength. But on a deeper, subconscious level I was enraged with God that he would allow such a tragedy, that he would ‘take’ my friend from me knowing how she was family to me when I had none of my own. I became convinced in my heart that God was just like my father—uncaring, cruel, a betrayer of trust.”
She continues, “With the help of a highly skilled Christian therapist I began an emotional journey that has often seemed unendurable and endless. The feelings that had been pushed down inside of me for so many years gushed out all at once and threatened to overwhelm me. A large part of my healing process has been to try to come to terms with God—no small task. I have challenged him, cried with him, raged at him, and clung to him…. I have asked the hard questions, laid it all out, and waited for his answers. My journal is thick with entreaties and longings and grief. I have cried more than I ever thought humanly possible and felt such intense pain that at times I felt my body simply could not endure it.” (In other words, “Lynn” struggled with God as openly and honestly as Psalm 44 does.)
“Lynn” concludes, “God has, for the time being at least, settled many of my questions by answering my crucial one: Do you love me, God? That was at the heart of my turmoil and confusion and that was the one he has answered with a resounding ‘YES!!’ Over and over and over again God has revealed his love for me in countless, varied, and creative ways. In those moments the tears of pain become tears of joy and grateful relief to finally, finally be loved—fully, freely, eternally.”
I find great hope in the fact that the apostle Paul takes one of the most despairing statements of Psalm 44 (verse 22: “Because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter”) and weaves it into the great assurance of Romans 8:36-39: “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When you are struggling, take on “a faith so robust it wrestles with God.” As you do so, I pray that you will discover with “Lynn” and with Paul that you are deeply loved by God—“fully, freely, eternally.”
If truth be told, I need to admit that I often feel frustrated with God. The reason is that I want God to show himself off, to make it absolutely clear where he is at any moment. I want God to shine a neon arrow so that I know where to look to see what he is up to. But God appears to be quite content to work incognito so that we are often not even aware that God is at work around us.
The story of Moses begins this way (Exodus 2:1-10). In the story of his birth, and of being placed in a basket in the river, and of being rescued from the river by Pharaoh’s daughter, God is never mentioned. The text never says, “God did this” or “God did that,” but when we look carefully, we find frequent evidence of the working of God. Though Pharaoh has commanded that “every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile” (Exodus 1:22), Moses’ parents are able to hide him safely for three months. When it becomes too risky for them to hide him at home any longer, his mother puts him in the river in a papyrus basket. Wonder of wonders, Pharaoh’s daughter just happens to find this baby, and, against all odds, she decides to rescue this child whom her father, the Pharaoh, had condemned. Moses’ sister just happens to be nearby and offers for her mother to nurse the baby. Moses’ own mother now gets legal protection and pay to nurse her child and to raise her child until he is weaned. Moses is then raised in Pharaoh’s own court as Pharaoh’s daughter’s own son. Pharaoh’s daughter gives the boy the name of Moses (meaning “drawn out”), announcing, “I drew him out of the water.” She takes credit for Moses’ rescue, but all the while it has been God working incognito.
In his book Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey writes, “My own understanding of God’s hiddenness traces back…to my first visit to a natural history museum. I gawked at the huge stuffed grizzly bears and the woolly mammoths and the yellowed skeletons of whales and dinosaurs hanging from the ceiling. One exhibit, however, kept beckoning me: a display of animal camouflage. When I first walked past it, I saw side-by-side scenes of winter and summer foliage. Only when I returned and stared intently did I notice the animals hiding in the diorama: a ferret chasing a snowshoe hare in the winter scene, praying mantises, birds, and moths in the summer. A placard detailed how many animals were hidden, and I spent half the day lingering there, trying to locate them all” (p. 118).
Yancey goes on to share, “I turned to God primarily because of my discovery of goodness and grace in the world: through nature, through classical music, through romantic love. Enjoying the gifts, I began to seek the giver; full of gratitude, I needed Someone to thank. Like the animals in the diorama, God had been there all the while, waiting to be noticed. Though I still had no proof, only clues, the clues led me to exercise faith” (p. 118).
The job of faith is to look at the diorama of our lives as carefully as Philip Yancey looked at the diorama in the natural history museum—looking not to spot the snowshoe hare or the moth but to spot the presence of God around us.
Psalm 43 is a psalm that flows out of a troubled heart: “For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you cast me off? Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy?” (verse 2) Psalm 43 is a psalm that flows out of troubled soul that is seeking God’s leading: “O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me” (verse 3).
The request for God’s light and truth is a request for clarity from God. In essence, the psalmist is asking, “God, make it clear to me where you are in this mess. Make it clear to me what way I should go so that I can get out of this mess and back to your joy.’
When it comes to the matter of God’s leading in our lives, clarity is something we all want…but seldom get. In his book Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning shares: “When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at ‘the house of the dying’ in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, ‘And what can I do for you?’ Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.
“‘What do you want me to pray for?’ she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: ‘Pray that I have clarity.’
“She said firmly, ‘No, I will not do that.’ When he asked her why, she said, ‘Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.’ When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, ‘I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.’”
In God’s measurement of things, trust in our souls is more important than clarity in our minds. Thus Psalm 43 concludes with: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” In the end, what matters most to the psalmist is not clarity of mind but hope in God.
A poem by an anonymous writer offers perspective on what we have in God even when we don’t have clarity:
The will of God will never take you
Where the grace of God cannot keep you,
Where the arms of God cannot support you,
Where the riches of God cannot supply your needs,
Where the power of God cannot endow you.
The will of God will never take you
Where the Spirit of God cannot work through you,
Where the wisdom of God cannot teach you,
Where the army of God cannot protect you,
Where the hands of God cannot mold you.
The will of God will never take you
Where the love of God cannot enfold you,
Where the mercies of God cannot sustain you,
Where the peace of God cannot calm your fears,
Where the authority of God cannot overrule for you.
The will of God will never take you
Where the comfort of God cannot dry your tears,
Where the Word of God cannot feed you,
Where the miracles of God cannot be done for you,
Where the omnipresence of God cannot find you.
Quite a few years ago, in the parking lot of a grocery store, a young mother was struggling with her load of groceries. The grocery cart was full, and so were her arms. When she reached her car, she placed one package on the roof of the car while she reached into her purse for the keys to unlock the car door. She then moved her bags from the grocery cart into the car. But when she got into the car and began to drive away, a young man noticed that she had forgotten to retrieve the package which she had set on the roof of the car. He quickly ran after her as she headed toward the street. As she began to accelerate to pull onto the street, the package began to slide off the roof of the car. Fortunately the young man caught up with the car just then and caught the package just before it hit the pavement. More accurately, the young man caught the package just before she hit the ground, for the package was a baby girl in a baby-carrier.
The young man had perceived the predicament. He saw that a baby was in critical danger of falling from a moving car, and he rushed to her rescue.
That is also the story of Good Friday and Easter. The whole of the human race was in critical danger of death and destruction, but God saw our predicament and rushed to our rescue. God came into our world as one of us then rushed to catch us before it was too late. The way he caught us was by dying as we do then conquering death.
In 1st Corinthians 15:51-55, the apostle Paul writes about the miracle of what happens for us because of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’”
Christ’s death and resurrection has taken away the sting of death.
A little boy and his father were driving down a country road on a beautiful spring afternoon. Suddenly a bumblebee flew in the car window. Since the little boy was deathly allergic to bee stings, he began to panic. But the father reached out, grabbed the bee, squeezed it in his hand, then released it. But as soon as he let it go, the young son became frantic once again. His father saw his panic-stricken face. Once again, the father reached out his hand, but this time he merely showed his hand to his son. There, still stuck in his skin was the stinger of the bee. “Do you see this?” he asked his son. “You don’t need to be afraid anymore. I’ve taken the sting for you.”
That’s what Jesus has done for us.
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem in the final week of his life, he was looking ahead to his death and trying to prepare his followers for his death. He wanted his followers to know that he was like the prophets who came before him, who proclaimed God’s message faithfully but were still put to death as martyrs. In a prayer, Nehemiah had cried out to God about what people had done to the prophets: “They were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their backs and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you” (Nehemiah 9:26). Jesus wanted his followers to know that martyrdom is what lay ahead for him, but he also wanted them to understand that he was more than a prophet and that his death would mean more than the deaths of all the prophets combined.
So in Mark 12:1-12, Jesus tells a parable about a man who planted a vineyard (a common symbol for Israel). But when the owner sent servants to collect his fair share from the vineyard, the people seized and beat and insulted and even killed the owner’s servants (a clear reference to how the prophets were treated in Israel). Finally, the owner sends his own beloved son (Jesus’ reference to himself), but they killed the son even as they had killed the servants. With this parable Jesus forewarns his followers of his coming death. However, Jesus wants his followers to know that his death is not the end of the story. Therefore, at the conclusion of this parable, Jesus shares a quote from Psalm 118 to speak to what would yet come about despite people rejecting him and killing him: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; that was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes!”
Like the prophets, Jesus proclaimed God’s message to people, and like the prophets, Jesus will be martyred by the people. Unlike the prophets, Jesus is not a mere mortal but the “beloved son” of the owner of the vineyard (Mark 12:6)—the beloved Son of God. Unlike the prophets, Jesus’ death becomes the cornerstone.
The cornerstone is the foundation stone. All other stones are set in reference to this stone. The cornerstone determines the position of everything that follows. That’s what Jesus death means for us.
Paul S. Rees remarks, “The cross does not so much reveal God’s mind, that is his infinite intellect…as it reveals his heart. It is God himself getting through to our hearts, tracking us down in our sins with love’s relentlessness, forgiving those sins, shattering the old self-centeredness of us, and putting God at the center of a new life and a new person!”
In other words, Christ’s death is the cornerstone. His death determined the nature of everything that has followed. His death reveals forever God’s heart of love for us. His death tracked us down in our sins with love’s relentlessness. His death forgave those sins. His death reconciled us to God. His death put God at the center of a new life and a new person.
Frederick Buechner adds, “Christianity…ultimately offers no theoretical solution [to the problem of evil]…. It merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene—not even this—but that God can turn it to good.”
Jesus’ death is the cornerstone, setting a direction of hope for us even when things seem dark.