God is good, even when He hides
This week, Citylight’s very own Walter Shaw illuminates the glorious fact that “God is good, even when He hides” by diving into how He sees, He hears our requests and He is still King.
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop
A Praying Life by Paul Miller
ESV Study Bible
Do you ever feel like you’re playing hide and seek with God? If you’re playing hide and seek with a small child and you’re hidden just a little too well, they may cry out a bit and if it goes on long enough even wonder if their parent has left them to fend for themselves. From the parent’s perspective, there is a lesson for the child to learn by calling out and really searching for the parent. Today’s passage is a little exercise in hide and seek.
In the first verse of our passage today, the Psalmist declares that God is far away and hiding. The Psalmist expresses the reality that we have all experienced, there are times when God feels far away. Especially in times of suffering like the one described in this Psalm, God can feel unwilling and even uninterested in acting on our behalf. We cry out to him and it feels like he is hiding from us. It can even feel like God is simply not good anymore. But the truth, and the big idea of this passage, is that God is good, even when he hides. This raises the question, why is God still good? Psalm 10 gives us three reasons: first, He sees. Second, He hears our requests. Third and finally, He is still King.
HE SEES (vv.1-12)
Why O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor, let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised… In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”… “He says in his heart, ‘I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity. His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.”… “The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might. He says in his heard, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.’” (excerpt from vv.1-12)
First, God is still good because He sees even when it looks like He’s turning a blind eye. In verses 2-11, the Psalmist lays out an extended description of the injustice he is up against. First, the Lord appears to be hiding himself from the Psalmist. The writer of this Psalm does not appear to feel God’s comforting presence. He is facing circumstances that make it appear as if God is not listening to his prayers. This is common in the Psalms. But do you notice what is unique about the complaint in this Psalm? What’s unique about Psalm 10 in particular is that God appears to be hiding from the Psalmist yes, but also the wicked! He is hiding not only from the Psalmist but also from the evil one. [Pause] THAT is what’s unique about this Psalm. God is not confronting, destroying, or stepping in to stop the evil deeds that the wicked are carrying out. God is allowing the wicked to prosper and the poor and oppressed to suffer. While the poor and helpless are being oppressed, the wicked run rampant. Here are just a few examples of the kinds of things that the Psalmist is accusing God of letting the wicked person get away with.
The wicked boast in the desires of their soul. The wicked devise traps for the poor to be ensnared in. The wicked does not seek the LORD, all his thoughts are “There is no God.” Not only that, the wicked are prospering while the poor are oppressed! A miscarriage of justice is happening. In their pride, the wicked totally disregards God’s judgment of right and wrong. The wicked man thinks that God has forgotten, and since God is hiding, he will never see or avenge the wrong that is being done. In summary, in their greed, the wicked devise and execute plans to oppress the poor. Not only that, they’re getting away with it all! Where there should be justice, there is injustice.
That is the situation that the Psalmist contronts in Psalm 10:1-11: God seems to be hiding both his mercy and justice from the poor and his anger and wrath from the wicked. But the Psalmist knows the truth and he reveals it in v.14 But you do see. God has not removed Himself from the situation. He is not turning a blind eye to the suffering of the poor and the oppressed. He is not ignorant of the wickedness and evil of the world. Our God is the good who sees. The Psalmist follows in the tradition of the Hagar, who suffered at the hands of Abraham’s wife Sarah. When she was suffering and felt alone, God spoke to her and she said that God is the God who sees.
Nine verses of this eighteen-verse Psalm are devoted to describing the situation of injustice that the Psalmist is facing. When I first read this passage, the proportion of the Psalm devoted to complaint made me a little uncomfortable. Then I imagined all the centuries of God’s people coming together to sing this Psalm which is halfway devoted to complaint as an act of worship. That’s right, the complaint featured in this Psalm was intended by God to be used to worship Him in it. God is good, even when He hides. Why is he still good? Because even though it seems like He is turning a blind eye, He sees.
In response to circumstances like this, the proper response is called lament. Psalm 10 is a classic example of a lament Psalm. Mark Vreogop defines Christian lament as “the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and God’s goodness.” The first way that the Psalmist expresses lament in this text is in complaining to God.
God sees our pain and hears our complaints, so how should we respond? I have two suggestions for us as we consider applying this portion of the text. First, complain to God. The Psalmist takes his complaints directly to the one who is able to do something about them. When we are oppressed or in seasons of suffering, it can be very natural for us to focus on other things and give God the silent treatment. When God feels far from us, we think it’s inauthentic to talk to him about our problems. Finally, you may have experience praying to God and experiencing not his nearness, but his distance. For you, complaining to God may feel almost like a risk – opening your heart up again, making yourself vulnerable to God, or disappointment. This is an illustration of a principle that I learned from Pastor Tim called complaining up. In an organization, when someone makes a decision that you don’t agree with or there’s a situation you don’t like, the easiest thing for us to do is to “complain sideways.” Saying things like “Did you hear about this?” or “Can you believe that they made this decision?” Instead of complaining sideways, the Psalmist here takes the opposite approach, complaining up. Complain up to the person who can actually do something about it. The Psalmist here is complaining up to the person who can ultimately quiet his enemies and restore justice, God himself. Rather than grumbling or complaining sideways, complain UP.
But how should we complain? This brings me to my second suggestion from this text, complain specifically about the wickedness in the world. The Psalmist is very specific about the oppression happening in the world. Similarly, bringing our specific complaints to God helps us to truly be honest with Him. It might feel uncomfortable to bring specific complaints to God, but the example shown by the Psalmist and sung by God’s people for centuries shows us that bringing our specific complaints to God is the beginning of the process of redirecting our hearts to Him. When you see injustice in the world, bring it to God. Here are some things you might want to bring to God in prayer: Racism in the world, abortion, dishonest people succeding over Godly people in the workplace, human trafficking all around the world and even in Philadelphia, abusive parents that create dangerous homes for vulnerable children, and predatory pastors that take God’s name in vain and harm vulnerable people. Let your honest and specific complaints about wickedness in the world move you through the next element of lament: requesting.
HE HEARS OUR REQUESTS (vv.12-15)
Arise, O LORD; O God lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account?” 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. Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.
God is still good even when He hides. How do we know this? Psalm 10 vv.12-15 tells us we know this because God even when we don’t feel his presence, God hears our requests. In the face of rampant wickedness and injustice, the Psalmist’s response is to not only bring their complaints to God, but also to bring their requests to God. Look with me at the different requests the Psalmist makes in these verses: Arise, Lift up your hand, don’t forget. Even “break the arm of the wicked and evildoer” and “call his wickedness to account.” Notice that the Psalmist tells God to arise and take action against the wicked on earth. He is requesting for God to take an active role in ending the injustice that the wicked are perpetrating against the helpless.
Making a request to God takes faith. Asking God to intervene recognizes that if God does arise and act, He will change what’s going wrong in the world.
Because God is sovereign, we know there is no prayer too big for God to answer. The enemies that the Psalmist is facing are so powerful that from an earthly perspective, they are prosperous and it looks like even through generations, they will never face adversity. Even in the face of an enemy like that, the Psalmist approaches God with confidence, knowing that if God acts, circumstances will change.
So how can we make this personal? My first suggestion is simply to ask God to act against the wicked in the world. In v.15, the Psalmist requests for God to break the arm of the wicked. And so it is good and right to ask God to change events in the world. Where there is injustice in the world, it is good and right to ask for justice to be done. But that’s not easy for all of us. My natural tendency is to look upon my own prayers with cynicism. I first read about this in Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life when I became a Christian and it has stood out to me ever since. If prayer doesn’t come easily for you, and I’m guessing that describes all of us, then I’d recommend you pick up a copy.
One of Miller’s observations that touched me as I read it was this: Cynicism kills prayer. This is how it shows up in my life. Let’s just say I do take the bold step and ask God to change more than my heart, but the circumstances of the world as well. If it doesn’t happen, my cynicism is validated. Of course God wouldn’t answer my prayer, and I was a fool for even thinking he would. Prayer only exists to change me, not circumstances. If by some miracle what I asked for actually comes to pass, my cynical heart always has an explanation for it. “It would have happened anyway.” “I knew that was going to happen.” I don’t know about you but I am about a thousand times more likely to respond to wickedness in the world by complaining about it to my wife or by texting a friend instead of taking my complaint up to God.
So how do we pray? We simply ask in faith that God has the power to answer our prayers beyond all that we can ask or imagine. The Psalmist exhibits no shame or cynicism in God’s ability to break the arm of the evildoer and restore justice on earth, and we don’t need to either. Jesus instructed us to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” When we pray for God to establish justice on earth, we are praying for the Kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven.
Why can we still pray against wickedness in the world when God seems to be hidden? We can pray against wickedness in the world because He is still King!
HE IS STILL KING (16-18)
The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
God is good even when it seems like He is hiding. He’s good because he sees, even when it seems like he’s turning a blind eye. He’s good because he hears our complaints and our requests. Third and finally, God is good because He is still King, even when it doesn’t look like it.
In Psalm 10:16-18, the Psalmist reminded himself of what he knew to be true – the LORD is king. Not only does he make requests of God, he expresses faith that his requests will come to pass. He moves from “please hear the desire of the afflicted” to “you hear the desire of the afflicted.” He will strengthen the hearts of the afflicted and he will incline his ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. These are exceedingly bold claims. How can the Psalmist speak this way? Is this an example of wishful thinking? Did the Psalmist master the art of positive thinking? No. The Psalmist is following in the footsteps of God’s people from the beginning, looking forward to a hope of eternal justice. In Genesis 2, sin entered the world as our first parents Adam and Eve believed the words of the serpent instead of God’s words. In Genesis 3, God curses the serpent, the prince of evil, wickedness, the one who said “Did God really say?” but just as easily could have said “Can God really see?” God curses the serpent by telling him that one day a man will crush the serpent’s head. The rest of the Old Testament looks forward to the fulfillment of that promise. There will come a day when every wrong is made right and every tear will be wiped away from our eyes.
This helps to explain why Jesus’ arrival was unexpected. Jesus lived the life we should have lived, a life entirely without sin. And Jesus died a brutal death in our place for our sin. Rather than conquering the wicked and breaking their arms, Jesus was trampled underfoot by the wicked. If today you feel like God is hiding from you, I’d like to hone on this point for you. Even though you may not feel it, like the Psalmist did not feel it, if you are suffering today God is near to you. In fact, in the incarnation, God became a man, he became like us, so that He could be near to us. Jesus lived in this fallen world and suffered at the hands of men, just like you may be suffering at the hands of men right now. Jesus very likely would have sung this Psalm during gatherings of worship. When Jesus was on the cross, he quoted a lament Psalm similar to Psalm 10 to express what he was feeling. Sufferer, Jesus died so that he could be near to you, even if today it feels like he’s hiding. But in some small way, the Psalmist knew that the story wouldn’t end there. Even though it seemed like God was turning a blind eye, He saw. He heard the requests of His people crying out for centuries. Even though it didn’t look like Jesus was exercising kingship, our Lord was still King and he demonstrated His kingship as He rose from the grave and ascended to the right hand of the Father. Our God is in the heavens and even now, He does what he pleases. One day, Jesus will return and exercise perfect eternal justice. He will break the arm of the evildoer forever and wipe away every tear from your eyes. It is in that eternal hope that the Psalmist declares, “The LORD is king forever and ever.”
All of this answers the question “How can we have the resources to approach the God of the universe? The thrice holy transcendent God that is so unlike us that even a drop of sin perishes in his presence? The answer is in the gospel. A participant in a rebellion does not waltz into the king’s headquarters complaining about the opposition he faces, he has no right to. Apart from God’s grace, that’s what we all are. But in the gospel our primary identity is no longer rebel. In the deepest fiber of our beings, we are no longer identified with our sin. In the great exchange, Christ took on our sin so that we could receive everything that He deserved because of his perfectly righteous life. If you are here today not currently following Jesus, he died to rescue you from being one of the people in this Psalm that says, “there is no God.” It is in Christ that we all now have access to the good God who sees us even when it feels like he’s turning a blind eye, who hears our requests to change a wicked world, and who is King over heaven and earth.