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Why this is important: King David knows he can speak honestly with God. King David is clear about his despair. He feels like God has turned his back on the King and all David can see is the back of God’s head. I can speak honestly with God. There are times I’m in despair. God knows it. Why should I try to hide it? Best to “fess up”.

King David embodies Thanks-Living. Even in his despair, the King throws himself into God’s arms. The King celebrates being rescued by God, even though he hasn’t been rescued yet. I am challenged to live a life of “Thanks-Living”. Am I seeing what God is doing today or focused on what he isn’t doing?

Jesus challenges us to thank God and see what God is doing, not what He is not. God has answered our prayers. God has healed us. God has delivered us from the evil one. God is in a good mood and we know it.

How long, O Yahweh [Lord]? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Yahweh [Lord]my God;

light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,

lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”

lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to Yahweh [Lord],

because he has dealt bountifully with me. [1]

Source: Psalm 13

Questioning God is an ancient tradition in Israel. Cain responds to God’s concern for the whereabouts of his brother, Abel, with a question of his own: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. Abram answers God’s promise of great reward with the poignant question, “What can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”. The greatest example of a questioner outside the psalms is Job, whose questions begin in Job 3 and are not quelled until God appears in chapter 38.

The questions at issue here are not simple requests for knowledge but express deep human misgivings about the character and activity of God and their effect on human life.

  • This kind of questioning—flung in the face of God, as it were—is a product of and a response to the experience of the hiddenness of God, who refuses to appear and act as humans expect and desire.
  • Rather than information, these questions seek divine presence and action on the questioner’s behalf.
  • Such questions reveal a faith seeking to understand in the midst of painful experiences that shake the very foundation of believing.

How long? The four lines with which our psalm begins are each introduced with the same interrogative phrase, ʿad ʾanah (lit., “until where?”), translated as “How long?” These questions are addressed directly to God, as the vocative use of Yahweh and the second-person verbs connected with God in verse 1 show.

The questions express the sense that God has withdrawn from the psalmist’s present experience and has hidden himself. God’s failure to appear and act leads to a fear of abandonment—that Yahweh has forgotten the psalmist. Such divine forgetfulness threatens to undo him, because to be known and remembered by God is to be in the relationship of blessing.

The experience of God’s absence has inward emotional effects on the psalmist. His sense of abandonment leads to inward “wrestling” with thoughts (13:2—“I take counsel within myself”) and daily “sorrow” (yagon, “torment”) in his heart. There are also external consequences since the psalmist—no longer convinced or certain of Yahweh’s active presence in his behalf—wonders whether the enemy can be held at bay much longer.[2]

Good news: David remembers to trust in the steadfast love of Yahweh. David remembers what God is doing and rejoices. David sings to Yahweh. David focuses on Yahweh and not his miserable situation. We can do the same. We can see what God is doing (as opposed to what He is not) and be joyful. We get to choose!

The lessons the Psalter offers regarding divine absence include the following.

  • The experience of divine abandonment is real and painful and is rightfully brought to God in laments and questions. God is not offended by our honest questions or even our heated complaints. Both confirm our desire for relationship and our faith that all is not as it should be.
  • Divine absence need not be seen as the result of some failing within ourselves. Even the righteous suffer, and indeed suffering without divine intervention can be understood as one of the hallmarks of faithful living.
  • Suffering the absence of God can be redemptive as others are brought to realize through our experience that the painful realities of life do not deny the existence, power, and compassionate concern of our God.
  • God is worth holding on to faithfully even when we do not experience him as present.[3]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 13:1–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Wilson, G. H. (2002). Psalms (Vol. 1, pp. 278–279). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Wilson, G. H. (2002). Psalms (Vol. 1, p. 284). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.