Summary: When God seems to have abandoned us for a long time we need to trust, looking forwards and backwards to times of blessing, as David did.
What is a long time? A year? Ten years? A hundred years? A thousand years? The answer to this question is ’it all depends’. We live in an increasingly impatient world; we want and expect everything NOW, just like spoiled children. I was like that on Thursday afternoon when I was in a huge hurry trying to sort out some paper work, and found myself shouting at the computer to ’hurry up!’ Even though it was probably only taking a couple of seconds longer than normal to get going. There is a saying ’a week is a long time in politics’, illustrating how quickly things can change in that area of life. For some things time really seems to drag, for others it just flies by. In fact, time can be both flying and dragging for us at the same time, when we think about different situations and areas of our lives. What we see to be a long time also varies through our lives. When I was six, a term at school seemed to last forever, now I am 39 a year seems to go as quickly as a term did back then. But whatever age we are, when we are missing somebody or something, or when we are desperate for something to happen, the shortest delay seems like a long time.
This was the experience of David. He was going through a deep valley in his experience of God. The Lord seemed far away. So far that it felt like he had forgotten him, the humble shepherd boy who he had raised up to be king over his people. It seemed as though he was getting no response whatsoever to his prayers or to his worship, it was as if the Lord was not just ignoring him, but actively hiding from him. He was desperate for the fellowship with God that he had known before. It seemed to be such a long time since he was conscious of the Lord’s attention and presence.
Not only was he going through a deep valley spiritually, but it seems that there were other problems as well, contributing to his despondency and feelings of abandonment. Perhaps other people were getting at him, perhaps all he could see was problems and difficulties no matter where he looked. He prayed, but nothing seemed to change. God seemed to be doing nothing.
Time was really dragging, he was missing the one thing that he loved the most and which gave him the most joy and fulfillment. It caused him to cry out in desperation and impatience ’How long?’ For how much longer would he be abandoned?
God seemed so far distant. How long? Three times he cried out, in his confusion and bewilderment to God, how could the Lord who he had served so faithfully seem so far distant and to be ignoring him? Then he cried out again, how long would the adverse circumstances that he was facing carry on for. Nothing was going right, and nothing, it seemed had gone right for a very long time.
Most of us can identify with David here, finding God far distant and seeming to lack contact with him. For many of us it seems that these times go on forever.
Many would have given up. Many would have concluded that God had abandoned them forever. Many would have given up and just shrugged their shoulders and tried to carry on with life on their own, perhaps filled with resentment against God for allowing them to stay in these circumstances. Or perhaps they would have doubted God, doubted his desire to help, doubted his love for them, even doubted his very existence. Many would have become cynical and weary of life.