Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 16:13-20; Acts 25:1-12; Psalm 44; Exodus 39-40
Today’s psalm addresses the sort of suffering that can perplex, discourage or defeat people. Some psalms begin with questions about God’s presence, but conclude with resounding declarations of God’s power and faithfulness. Psalm 44 begins with the ways God has defended Israel, but by the end the psalmist is wondering why God deserts us in our difficulties. Where is God when good people suffer for being good?
While facing uncertainty in overpowering circumstances, the psalmist recalls God’s past faithfulness. The great victories of the past were not due to the Israelites’ abilities or power. God was at work. ‘It was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them’ (Psalm 44:3). This recalls the events of Exodus, where Moses regularly raised his arm in leadership or battle, yet attributed the victories to God’s right hand (Exodus 15:6). The Lord was his strength and salvation. The Israelites did not move unless God moved first (Exodus 40:36-38). They had the advantage that God’s presence was apparent in the cloud and fire. The psalmist notes that the light of God’s face reminded them of his love for them.
But present reality is very different for the psalmist. The armies are in retreat, the enemy has the upper hand. Israel is taken captive and God’s people scorned and ridiculed. If they had been unfaithful, they could lay the blame at their own feet. But they had been pursuing God and had not broken the covenant. When bad things happen, we may look for something we have done wrong. It seems more understandable if we are being punished. We wonder what we might have done to deserve this.
Sometimes suffering is not about the past, but about the future. It may not be about what we have done, but about what God can do. God may allow suffering because he knows some good can come from it. When the Israelites were in captivity, they learned to long for the Lord. With defeat, they learned their need for God. Likewise, faithful Christians are told they will suffer for doing right (1 Peter 3:14-18). Through suffering, we can be transformed to become more like Christ (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).
In the midst of trials and tribulations, we may wonder what God is up to. Maybe we have been faithful to God, walked in his ways, served others, and yet find ourselves in distress. Where is God when good people suffer for being good? Christians around the world face persecution and death. Others are rejected and discriminated against in less violent ways. Those in this psalm suffered because of their faith (Psalm 44:22), as many Christians have also (Romans 8:6). Similar questions arise in other circumstances. We all face loss and disappointment, and may wonder if God has forgotten us. Illness inflicts us, the economy collapses, faithful friends fail us. The world can be a cruel place, and we can feel like God doesn’t care.
Whether in victory or defeat, the psalmist looks for the Lord’s face. When times are good, we are distracted by our own accomplishments. When times are hard, we struggle to see through the smoke of despair. In all circumstances, the solution is the same. We should lay our triumphs and troubles at the feet of the Lord. We should call out to him in joy or agony. ‘Wake up, God! Quit hiding from us!’ But then we must decide: Will I trust in his unfailing love? Will I trust that he is there with me even if it is hard to see him?