1, Why, O LORD, so You stand far away? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?
2, In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
3, For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.
4, In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek Him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
5, His ways prosper at all times; Your judgements are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
6, He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
7, His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
8, He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
9, he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
10, The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.
11, He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, He has hidden His face, He will never see it.”
12, Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up Your hand; forget not the afflicted.
13, Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account?”
14, But You do see, for You note mischief and vexation, that You may take it into Your hands; to You the helpless commits himself; You have been the helper of the fatherless.
15, Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till You find none.
16, The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from His land.
17, O LORD, You hear the desire of the afflicted; You will strengthen their heart; You will incline Your ear
18, to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
I’m not going to be separating this psalm into segments like I have in the previous psalms. Instead, I’m going to use this psalm as an opportunity to talk about suffering.
At the beginning of the psalm, David questions the presence of God, asking why He is hiding Himself. Then interestingly enough, at the end, he confesses God sees all the evil he just described and even hears the cries of the afflicted and the oppressed. When we read this, we have to make a decision: Is David being foolish, or is he just being human? I’m privy to the latter.
The question David is calling to mind is something we all have done in the past, perhaps recently or currently. It’s human to question God’s presence; perhaps it is also foolish, even sinful. There have been times in my life when I’ve questioned God’s presence. Something terrible would happen to me or to another person and I’d say, “God, where are You?”
It’s easy to question God’s presence in the midst of adversity and tribulation. When things are going well and according to our plan (note: our plan), we immediately see God in it and give Him thanks and praise. Of course, it’s always good to give thanks and praise to God when He blesses us. Yet God could be just as absent in our prosperity when we make our things our god. It’s human nature to forget God’s loving character and presence when things are going poorly because we are sinful.
We take Jesus’ words for granted, “I am with you, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). Jesus was not exaggerating when He said this. He is always with us, even (and especially) when it doesn’t feel like it. Jesus did not promise that we would feel He is with us; He promised that He is with us. It’s one thing to expect God to look like God; it’s another to find Him here with us in the midst of adversity. We expect God to look like God and act like God—that is, what we have imagined Him to be rather than who He’s revealed Himself to be.
The Christian life is not a life of peace. It is certainly a life of peace with God the Father (i.e. reconciliation), but it is not a life of worldly peace. Jesus never promised that to us. The Christian life is a life of suffering. It is precisely because Jesus suffered the greatest suffering for us that He comes to us in all our suffering. Jesus suffered three types of suffering for us: physical suffering, shame, and spiritual suffering.
The first is what we’re most familiar with: Jesus’ physical suffering. The Romans invented death by crucifixion, and the sentence was unbelievably cruel. They dipped their leather whips—the “cat of nine tails”—into pieces of glass, bone, or rock and would whip the criminal’s back. It would tear away the person’s skin and even muscle, often leaving bone and organs exposed. This is the lashing Jesus suffered.
Then there’s the physical suffering of the cross. As the criminal hung, his or her’s shoulders would dislocate, taking all strength away from the arms. The posture of the hanging also made breathing difficult. In order to breathe, the criminal would have to push up on their legs. With a lack of food and water, their strength would inevitably fail as their lungs became filled with fluid, and the heart would burst (cf. Psalm 22:14-17). This would often last for several days. This is what Jesus went through for us.
Jesus also suffered the shame of the cross. Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller describes it this way:
The shame of the cross is the mockery, the reviling, the nakedness, the false accusations, and the blasphemy. Jesus was crowned with thorns (Matthew 27:29). This would not be comfortable, but worse than the physical pain of it is the mockery of His kingship and His kingdom. Jesus was blindfolded and struck on the face. This is the mockery of His prophetic office (86).
Jesus’ spiritual suffering is the worst. Before He died, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). This is the prayer of Psalm 22, so we understand Jesus to be praying the entire psalm here. God forsook Jesus on the cross. That is, God the Father left the Son to suffer His wrath. This He did in our place.
The Christian life is a life of suffering. Paul writes that we suffer with Christ so we may also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17). Peter repeats this in his first epistle (1 Peter 4:13). Jesus Himself also told us we would have tribulation in this life, encouraging His hearers to find encouragement in His overcoming the world (John 16:33). He also said, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
Thus, I say again: The Christian life is a life of suffering. Jesus picked up his cross after He went through His physical suffering, carrying it to where He would suffer shame, and upon which He would suffer God’s wrath for you.
Some of us may suffer physically, whether through martyrdom or even being bullied as children. All of us suffer shame for our faith. Even as adults, we are mocked, insulted, and ridiculed for our faith. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
So, where is God in our suffering? Well, for one, He was in the crowds, being tortured and mocked for you; He was on the cross, suffering shame for you; and He was on the cross suffering God’s wrath for you. And today, He is in the Word, which we turn to for the forgiveness of sins and proclamation of the Gospel. And He gave us His Spirit, who in our Baptism has promised us the inheritance of eternal life. Therefore, He is forever with us, whether we feel it or not because He promised He is with us.
David began this psalm with doubt of God’s presence in his suffering, and then He looked back to God’s past actions and promises in His Word and remembered who He is, thus utilising the rule of faith. The rule of faith is what’s God’s people understand about God and His salvation. So, when in doubt, exercise the rule of faith.
Like David, whenever we begin to doubt, we can look back to past actions—whether in our own lives or in the Scriptures—and remember God’s promises. Just because we fail to recognise God’s presence doesn’t mean He is absent. Our failure to see God’s presence is not a fault of His, but rather our fault in our sin. Throughout Scripture we see the inner workings of God’s plan for salvation, yet these inner workings were unknown to the people at the time.
Recall the exodus event. Whilst the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years, God was already putting things into work to bring about their liberation through Moses. Even though they suffered and likely questioned God’s presence, God was still there doing His work in His own timing. Four hundred years might seem like a long time to us, but “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
To God the Creator, time is irrelevant. The people had to wait for Moses to be born, for him to have his experiences as a prince of Egypt, to live in the wilderness for 40 years, and then return to demand their freedom to Pharaoh. They had to wait, but the entire time God was working behind the scenes.
Remember, then, that in the midst of all suffering, God is working behind the scenes. We may not know what He is doing, but we know He is present despite what we may feel because He has promised to be present to the end of the age. Thus, we can rely on His Holy Spirit whom He has given us as our teacher and comforter, to guide us and comfort us in times of difficulty and times of peace.
Psalm 10 Prayer
Father, in my sin You feel far to me. I recognise Your are present in spite of what I may feel, because You have promised that You are present. I know You are with me; help me to believe it. Help my unbelief! I come to You now to place before You all that burdens me [list what they are]. I have sought after You, and You have heard me. Let Thy will be done for Thy glory. Amen.
Wolfmueller, Bryan. Has American Christianity Failed? Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016.