How Long, O Lord? Psalm 13

August 13, 2017

A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.

Psalm 13 (NIV)

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

CONSIDER THIS

This is the only psalm in the Bible that begins with a series of five questions. All five questions reveal the inner anguish of the psalmist in the face of the silence of God. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (vs. 1, 2). Allow these questions to resonate deep within you. The Psalms do not shy away from asking God questions. The “how long” psalms are found throughout the psalter (6:3; 13:1,2; 35:17; 74:10; 80:4; 89:46; 90:13; 94;3; 119:84), carving out at the heart of biblical revelation the necessary theological space for lament and anguished questions before God.

Sometimes we, like David, find ourselves living in the agony of the silence of God. We come before God and all we seem to have are unanswered questions. It is important that we, as the church, acknowledge the reality and depth of such experiences. Indeed, one of the chief ways that the psalms serve as a means of grace to us is by giving voice to the full range of what we experience in relationship with God. Sometimes our prayers are not answered in ways that we understand, or can see. Some of our prayers go unanswered for many agonizing years, as we learn to lean into God and journey through a kind of habitat of waiting.

The important lesson from Psalm 13 is to never forget in your times of darkness what God has revealed in the times of light. The psalmist, even in the depth of God’s silence, puts his trust in God’s “unfailing love” (vs. 5). In the midst of unanswered questions, the psalmist declares, “my heart rejoices in your salvation” (vs. 5). He even chooses to “sing to the Lord” because he remembers God’s past faithfulness: “He has been good to me” (vs. 6). His circumstances have not changed. His inner emotional state may still be in turmoil. His prayers may yet remain unanswered. Yet, he remembers and he trusts, and that, in itself, begins to transform us and reorient us.

We also recognize that this psalm could only anticipate what we now know in full; namely, that Christ himself has entered into this liminal space between the silence of God and the full joy of divine resolution. Indeed, this psalm points us to the agony of Christ himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, as well as his trust in God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of God’s silence. In the agony of the Garden, it was difficult for Jesus Christ to capture a sense of the glory which would unfold in a few short days in the wake of the empty tomb and His glorious Resurrection.

Christians must cultivate holy memories of God’s work in history and in our lives, which alone can sustain us in the times of despair and darkness. Christ’s obedience to go to the cross was made possible through just such holy memories. Likewise, God will also bring us from the question marks of life to the great exclamation marks of His sure action.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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