When God Sleeps

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One of the most comforting biblical truths for Christians is that the God of the Bible neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:3–4). We chuckle when we read Elijah mockingly suggesting to the prophets of Baal that their god might have fallen asleep and need to be awakened (1 Kings 18:27). We know that the God of the Bible is different. Our orthodox theology does not permit us to fear that God cannot hear us because he has nodded off.

But, if we are honest, our theology does not always match our emotion. Though we know that he never sleeps, there are times, if we are bold enough to admit it, that it feels as though he is asleep. There are times when we long for God to step in and act mightily according to our timetable and agenda but he does not do so. We would never be so brash as to admit it, but it certainly feels like God sometimes takes a nap.

The Psalms reflect this disconnect between theology and emotion. Consider David’s prayer in Psalm 7: “Arise, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgement” (v. 6). The same David who often reflected unwavering trust in God admitted at times that it felt as if God had fallen asleep and needed to be awoken.

Admit it: Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever experienced the grave disconnect between your orthodox theology and your raw emotion? Has it ever felt to you, in a time of particular affliction or difficulty, as if God has nodded off and cannot hear your prayers? You’re in good company!

As he so often did, David opened Psalm 7 with an expression of unshakeable faith in God as his refuge (v. 1). As he faced opposition from “Cush, a Benjamite” (see superscription), of whom we know nothing more in Scripture, he felt as if his soul might be torn apart with no one to help him. But he knew that he could find his refuge in Yahweh.

We don’t know the source of Cush’s attack. It seems as if he was levelling some accusation of wrongdoing against David, while David pleaded innocence from that particular charge (vv. 3–5). Regardless, David prayed to Yahweh, his refuge, to rise in his anger and vindicate him (v. 6).

But it is precisely at that point that he felt the conflict. He knew that Yahweh, the God of truth, was his refuge. He knew that he was innocent of the charges levelled against him by Cush. He knew from previous experience that the Lord could deliver him. And yet, it felt as if gentle snoring was the only response he received to his prayers. “Awake for me!” he pleaded with the Lord (v. 6).

In Psalm 6, we saw that David was eager to take his despair and desperation to the Lord in prayer. We see this again in Psalm 7. It sounds sacrilegious to suggest that the Lord has fallen asleep, and it would be if we allowed that misperception to inform our theology. But David and his fellow psalmists knew where to take their doubts and their confusion: They took it to the Lord in prayer.

We are living through a time of great turmoil for many. As Doug showed yesterday, we are living through a storm, and some are in leakier boats than others. Perhaps you find yourself desperately bailing water out of your sinking boat but that water is entering quicker than you are able to empty it. Perhaps, despite your well-informed theology, you will admit that it feels as if God has fallen asleep, and that your desperate prayers are doing nothing to arouse him. Perhaps you feel guilty for even thinking that way.

If that is you, take heart from David’s words. David knew what you are feeling and did not allow it to stop him from pleading with the Lord. Indeed, he did not allow his emotion to override his theology. “I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High” (v. 17). But he did not bury his fears. He wrestled with the Lord in prayer, bearing his soul, admitting his fears, yet still trusting that the Lord was his refuge.

Will you take your fears and doubts in this time of turmoil precisely where they belong—to the throne of grace, where you will “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16)?

Stuart