How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
– Psalm 13:1a
It’s 1 a.m., and I’m sleepless…again. “Where are you, God?” I cry silently. There is no answer…again. I move quietly through the house retracing steps I’ve taken many times before. Maybe I’ll find Him in this room, or perhaps the next. I try sitting in my favorite chair where He sometimes visits me in the restlessness of my nights. No. He’s not here, I decide. My pain keeps me on the move in hopes of finding relief. I step silently into the bedroom and glance at my dogs asleep on their own comfortable beds. One is snoring softly. Oh, how I envy him. The other is on her back with feet clawing the air as if chasing the neighbor’s cat away from her dreams. “Where are you, God?”
I have been asking this question a lot lately, but I’ve lived far too many years to believe that God has taken an indefinite leave of absence from my life. Everything within me says this is not so. He has been by my side as I walked through the death of loved ones and the life-threatening illness of my child. Yes; God has been my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble just as He was for the psalmist of old (Psalm 46:1b). Yet, I find myself wondering why I cannot sense His presence as I struggle to navigate my present troubled waters.
Perhaps you’ve asked the same question at some point in your own life. Where was God when you ran from doctor to doctor hoping to find a cure, or at least a measure of relief? Where was God when a friend or loved one treated you harshly, or when your child insisted on wallowing in the filth of addiction and sin? Where was He?
I recently read an article entitled, “When God Doesn’t Answer.” Author Renee James shared her very personal story of God’s silence when she questioned why her two brothers were born without any hope of living normal lives. The fact that she was healthy and they were not pierced her soul like sharp metal spikes. “Nails have names,” she said. For her, those names were Niall and Sean. She wondered if her endless prayers for them went unanswered because she didn’t know how to ask for that divine voice to speak a miracle into existence. Perhaps God was simply turning a blind eye to a genetic accident of nature. Although she struggled for many years to find an answer that made some kind of sense—anything that would explain life’s cruelty—she eventually accepted the fact that even if God never changed the circumstances, He could change her. “Dear God,” she prayed, “I don’t understand what great work you are doing in my family, so help me to be patient.”
In the hands of Jesus, the master carpenter, Renee’s nails did what only nails could do. They held her in that place where she was worthy to identify with the suffering Christ who cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus used her nails to change her understanding of Him. They fastened her to the heart of her heavenly Father who longed to hear her say: “Nothing, not even [my present nails] will separate me from You.” Instead of railing against her family’s cross, she took comfort in God’s promise that “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21, NIV).
When Jesus walked the earth in human form He displayed His power by bringing order out of chaos and understanding out of confusion with one simple word, shalom. Regardless of whether He was calming the tumultuous Sea of Galilee or allaying the fears of His frightened disciples after His crucifixion, His pronouncement of shalom brought inner peace to those who needed it the most.
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the Hebrew word shalom implies more than a lack of conflict. It signifies completeness, soundness, welfare, peace and tranquility. When we acknowledge, as Renee did, that God’s ways are higher than ours and that His understanding is greater than our own, He speaks his shalom to our hearts thereby disrupting Satan’s plans to steal, kill and destroy us.
In the past I’ve written about the remarkable power of story to speak truth and life to others. Who better to speak shalom to the suffering than those who have found it for themselves? Jesus showed us the way, for He knew what it was like to experience undeserved pain. Yet He rose victorious to give each of us new life in him. Even when that life is filled with sorrow and pain, He offers us peace that passes all earthly understanding. It is His shalom that prepares us to take hope to a lost and dying world. It is His kind of peace, according to theologian, Walter Brueggemann, that gives us the compassion to mourn with those who know pain or suffering, but are powerless to voice it.
To all who walk the road of suffering yet find the courage to speak God’s shalom to others, the prophet Isaiah exclaims, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” Indeed, He does!
When all is said and done, know this: Your help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121:2). God may very well use your present suffering, or even your desert experience, to rescue those who are sinking beneath troubled waters. So where is God, you ask? He’s right there beside you, beside me, waiting for us to surrender to His will and His purpose for our lives. May you and I, like the Apostle Paul, consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Amen!
— Francine Thomas
“I Will Wait on You” by Shane & Shane
(a song inspired by Psalm 13)
How long oh Lord will You forget me
How long oh Lord will You hide, hide Your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with me
and everyday have sorrow in my heart, sorrow in my heart
I will wait on You; I will wait on You; I will wait on You
Look on me Lord and answer me.
Give my eyes light, or I will sleep in death; I will sleep in death
My enemies say, “I will overcome him,” and my foes rejoice even when I fall
I don’t want to fall. For I will trust in Your unfailing love. I don’t want to fall.
My heart rejoices in Your salvation; I will sing to the Lord