"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Friday, May 18, 2007

God Moves

In part due to a discussion elsewhere, I have been thinking about William Cowper. Cowper is best known, at least in Baptist circles, for the hymn "There Is a Fountain" but my favorite is "God Moves in a Mysterious Way". Cowper struggled through several periods of severe depression in his life, to the point of attempting suicide. He had experienced the dread of cloudy days, had seen God's frowning face of providence, and tasted the bitter bud.

Should we experience the kind of despair that Cowper experienced? I proposed in "These Days" that we have a better witness if we display the joy of our salvation. But I don't want to minimize the fact that believers will at times walk through very dark and difficult days. We see this in many Psalms, especially in Psalm 88, the "black sheep of the Psalter."
1O Lord, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before you.
2Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!

3For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
5like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah

8You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
10Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you?Selah
11Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

13But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
16Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
18You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.
In other Psalms that start similarly, the Psalmist always comes to an affirmation of God's final deliverance. Not here. The Psalmist knows the bitterest despair (though still he prays).

Though not explicitly a Messianic Psalm, in reading this I cannot help but reflect on the night of Jesus' betrayal, arrest, and ultimate abandonment by His friends. Notice three particular statements here, though we could look at others as well.

First, the Psalmist says his soul is full of trouble and he is about to die. In Matthew 26:38, Jesus tells Peter, James and John, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me."

Second, the Psalmist says that his friends shun him and see him as a horror. All the disciples flee at the arrest (though John has returned by the crucifixion) and Peter denies Jesus three times.

But, third, in Jesus we find the answer to the Psalmist's question:

10Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you?Selah

If Heman is the one mentioned in Chronicles, then the answer would not come for hundreds of years, but the question was answered. Yes, God does work wonders for the dead. Yes, the departed have (Jesus) and will (those in Christ, from both sides of the cross) rise up to praise God.

We will know sorrow in this life. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, was described by Isaiah as "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." We very well may experience times like the Psalmist when we feel abandoned and even crushed by God. Others may look at us like they looked at Jesus and assume that God has abandoned us. In those times, joy may seem very far away, and we may be in deep despair.

But we can and should endure, like Jesus, for the joy set before us. And we can and should sing with Cowper:

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
- William Cowper (1731-1800)

For we will likely never know the why of suffering in this life, but the great question of the Psalmist has been answered. Even if death overtakes us, one day God will work wonders for the dead, and we will rise up and praise Him forevermore.

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