The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Questioning Times

(Psalm 44)

As Christians we are aware of God’s many provisions. And because of Jesus we can especially testify to God’s goodness towards us. So when hardship comes our way we are at times perplexed as to why bad things happen to God’s people.

Most Christians have been there. We’ve been cruising along in our Christian lives, and without warning, disaster strikes. A debilitating illness, financial difficulties, a relationship breakdown, a major accident, they all seem to strike randomly when we are least expecting it. We all struggle to understand the reasons behind disasters. We all struggle to incorporate it into our theology, and what we understand of the Bible.

But one thing is sure, we are not alone. In they heyday of the Kingdom of Israel, the Psalmist in Psalm 44 grapples with the same question. We don’t know what the disaster was, or when it occurred, but it was a disaster of exilic proportions (v13). The greatest blessing Israel had ever received was occupancy of the Promised Land, and there was no greater disaster that could have happened to Israel then to be driven from it. Whether or not the Psalm refers to the exile is debated. Nonetheless, we’re meant to understand that this disaster posed a major problem to Israel.

The problems of understanding how the disaster could have come about begin with the identity of Israel. You see, Israel was no ordinary people! These were people that God himself had brought out of slavery. He took this people from the Egyptians which treated them like dirt, to be his treasured possession. God took this people who, in human terms, had no special purpose in life, and set them aside for his eternal purposes (Exodus 19:5-6). This involved living under God’s rule as their King. To this end, God gave them a land where this could be done (verses 1-2).

So why on earth has a disaster come on Israel if they were set aside for God’s purposes? Well, maybe because the King made cuts in the defence budget. Maybe the technology wasn’t up to date. Maybe there wasn’t enough new recruits in the reserves. But this can’t be right! The Psalmist openly recognises that though they were out there on the battle fields of Canaan, their efforts would have been futile if it weren’t for the sovereign provision of God (verses 3-8). The most formidable weapons of the day in the way of the sword, bow and arrow, don’t rate a mention in what contributed to Israel’s victories in battle (v6). It was all God! All the praise and glory arising from and victories could only be given to God.

So why the sudden role reversal? Before, it was Israel’s enemies that were on the retreat and being humiliated (verse 5, 7). Now it’s Israel’s turn. They’re the ones on the retreat. They’re the ones being humiliated (verse 10). What about their relationship with God and being a treasured possession set aside for God’s purposes? It’s as if they’ve been sold out, and God’s getting the raw end of a bad deal (verse 12). An Israelite couldn’t even walk down the street without attracting criticism, or being the butt of a joke by other people (verse 13-16). What’s happened? They might as well have been thrown into exile (verse 11).

          Well, maybe exile has got something to do with it! God did decree if Israel was not careful to observe all the regulations set out in the law, God would scatter them among the nations and into exile (Deuteronomy 28:25, 64; 30:17-18). But things don’t add up on this account either. According to the Psalmist, they had been faithful to the covenant (verse 17); they hadn’t gone off exploring alternate lifestyles (verse 18); they hadn’t forgotten God, or what he had done for them by worshipping other gods (v20). In sum, they had been faithful just as God requested them to be! There was no obvious reason as to why Israel should be suffering.

Failing to come up with a logical explanation for what has occurred, the Psalmist comes to an amazing position of faith and realises two important facts.

Firstly, the Psalmist realises that for all the confusion and suffering, in some way God will be glorified, and his purposes will be achieved (verse 22). The Apostle Paul picks up the same verse and uses it in his letter to the Romans (Romans 8:36). In this part of the letter, Paul is saying despite the most trying sufferings, we will never be cut off from fellowship with God, which is God’s ultimate purpose for each of us. God’s ultimate purpose was perhaps not known to the Psalmist. But what he did know was that the disaster was not outside of God’s control, and nothing was going to thwart God’s purposes.

Secondly, because God was in control of the situation, there was nothing they could do to remedy the disaster (verse 25). But this also meant there was every reason to petition God to reverse the situation. In verses 9-14, the personal pronoun “you” is used six times in reference to God. The Psalmist is fully aware that this was God’s doing. And if God can get them into this mess, God can get them back out of it. It’s to God alone that the Psalms looks for a resolution to the disaster. But on what basis? Because of whom they are as God’s people? No! Because the Psalmist has just offered a lavish sacrifice in the temple? No! Because it would be really neat to walk down the street without hearing someone say, “Did you hear the one about the Israelite who…”? No! God is petitioned on the basis of his great love. On the basis of his character and who he is (verse 26).

No amount of theological reflection can ease the pain and struggles that often accompany disaster. Just ask anyone caught up in the recent bombings in London. To justify suffering would seem to go beyond human wisdom. Particularly when the reasons behind a disaster elude us. However, as Christians, we have fellowship with God whose purpose it is to reconcile people to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul says, “God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32).

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

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October 6, 2007 - Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , ,

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