Unfaithful God

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Have you ever met anyone who believed that Christianity holds all the answers to life’s most perplexing questions? If we are honest, we will admit that that is not our experience. God’s people often wrestled with questions to which they find no answers. Psalm 44 is a case in point.

The psalmist begins his prayer by recounting God’s faithfulness to his people in the past (vv. 1–3). When God’s people came to the Promised Land, they did not drive out the Canaanites by their own strength but by God’s strength.

God, however, was not merely a God of the ancients. In vv. 4–8, the psalmist confesses God’s gracious faithfulness to his own generation. The God who had proven faithful in Joshua’s generation had proven faithful in his generation.

So far, so good. We rejoice in God’s faithfulness to his people. These are the kinds of verses that decorate our walls and fill our social media feeds. But things take an unexpected, dark turn in the next stanza.

In vv. 9–16, the writer reveals that things had gone horribly wrong. He speaks of a battle in which the Lord had not fought for his people. Israel had been forced to flee and its enemies had seized the spoil of battle. God’s people had become “the taunt of our neighbours, the derision and scorn of those around us.” The writer, who had formerly tweeted regularly about God’s faithfulness, now knew only disgrace and shame.

What had gone wrong? The brand of Christianity that has all the answers would suggest, perhaps, that God was punishing his people. No doubt, they had once again broken covenant and he, in his covenant faithfulness, was chastening them. But the psalm doesn’t allow us to reach that conclusion.

Verses 17–22 reveal the psalmist’s utter perplexity. God’s disfavour had fallen on his people even when they had done nothing to deserve it! They had not forgotten him. They had not forsaken their covenant obligations. They had not turned their back on him or walked away from his commandments. If they had done so, God’s actions would make sense—but they hadn’t and so it didn’t!

Can you relate? Have you ever faced a frowning providence that seems to make no sense? Perhaps a marriage has crumbled, or a child has walked away from the faith, or a dread diagnosis has been confirmed, or financial stability has crumbled. Perhaps, as was the case with the psalmist, those who have opposed you for your faith have seemed to emerge victorious while you sit as the scorn and derision of those who watch. And it makes no sense. You have lived a life honouring to God.  You have done everything that he has required of you.  You have done justice and loved kindness and walked humbly with your God—and yet he has seemingly turned his back on you. Simply put (though we would never dare to verbalise it), he has seemed to prove himself unfaithful.

This is how the psalmist felt. And rather than burying his emotions under a veneer of orthodoxy, he poured out his heart to God (vv. 23–26). In prayer, in language that seems almost irreverent, he accused God of sleeping and of hiding his face. He did not abandon the faith or accuse God to others of wrongdoing, but he was honest in his prayer. His prayer display a kind of honesty that we might be reluctant to display in our prayers. Surely we can’t speak to God in that way? But the psalmist did.

The psalm ends abruptly. God did not answer the psalmist’s question—or, if he did, the psalmist did not reveal his answer to us. How do we come to terms with the psalmist’s confusion? How do we come to terms with our own confusion over God’s apparent unfaithfulness?

Paul offers some help when he quotes this psalm in Romans 8:36. In vv. 35–39, Paul reminds us that, even when we are being killed all the day long and are being regarded as sheep for the slaughter, our confidence must be in Christ. For even when external circumstances make no sense, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Christian, God does not promise you unfailing circumstantial favour. He does not promise you answers to all your questions. He does promise you that nothing and no one can separate you from his love in Christ. Be encouraged in that thought as you enter a new week.

Stuart