Summary: A lesson to be learnt from the psalmist with regards to what our perspectives should be towards the issue of pain & suffering.
I would like us to turn our attention today to the Book of Psalms. My hope is that we will get to learn something from the psalmist with regards to what our perspectives should be when it comes to this whole issue of pain & suffering.
Most of us are probably more familiar with those psalms which are widely known as the psalms of praise or the psalms of thanksgiving, where the moods of these psalms are generally quite upbeat. For today, however, we are going to be looking at a different category of psalms, namely, the psalms of lament, where the mood is a lot less upbeat.
And the psalm we are going to look at today is Psalm 13, one of the more well-known psalms of lament, which starts off with the phrase, “How Long O Lord,” a phrase which is repeated four times. Some have therefore called this “the howling psalm.”
Incidentally, Don Carson has written a book which is also titled, “How Long O Lord: Reflections on Suffering & Evil.” At the beginning of the book, he recounted this real-life story.
A pastor is cutting his front lawn. He looks up from his task just in time to see a heavy dump truck back out of his neighbor’s driveway - right over the neighbor’s 18-month-old son, who had been squatting behind the huge tires. The pastor accompanies the hysterical parents to the hospital in the ambulance. There is no hope for the little boy; he has been crushed beyond recognition.
The question is asked: “Where is God? Where is God when this happened?” Another real-life story… this time as told by James Dobson in his book, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense.”
In 1961, Dr Paul Carlson went on a medical mission trip to the Congo. He later returned back to his practice in California but found that he couldn’t forget those hopeless people he had encountered in Africa. He said this to a colleague, “If you could only see the need, you wouldn’t be able to swallow your sandwich.” So not long after, he moved his whole family back to Africa where he set up a makeshift clinic, operating at times by flashlight and making house calls on his motorbike.
Two years later, civil war broke out. Dr Carlson was among a group of Americans held captive by a rebel faction who was using them as political pawns. During their captivity, there came an opportunity for them to escape by climbing over a wall. Dr Carlson actually managed to reach the top of this wall and was a split second from freedom when a burst of bullets took him down. With that, Dr Carlson’s humanitarian commitment to the people of Congo came to a tragic end. He left behind a loving wife and 2 children.
And we are left to ask the question, “Why Lord?” Why couldn’t You have distracted the gunman for another instant? An insect in front of his nose or some sweat in his eyes could have changed the outcome! But no such distraction occurred!
Back in our church, we have all been praying for a dear sister. Two years ago, in Sep 2007, she went through a brain tumor surgery but didn’t wake up after the operation. And up till today, she continues to lie in a hospital bed, in a coma. Many of us, myself included, found ourselves inevitably posing this question to the Lord, “How long O Lord? How long more will it take before You wake her up from her coma?”
Those of us who have lived long enough would have experienced, in one form or another, and in different degrees, the reality of pain and suffering – be it a personal tragedy, illness, failures or disappointments. And if we are completely honest with ourselves, I am sure that when we were struggling through such times of pain and suffering, the following are some of the questions we would have asked of the Lord,
Where were You O Lord when this accident happen?
Why O Lord did You allow this tragedy to take place?
How long O Lord must I go through this pain & suffering?
Philip Yancey, in his book “Disappointment with God” said this,
These questions are lodged somewhere inside all of us, yet few people ask them aloud, for they seem at best impolite, at worst heretical.
But consider this with me - is it really inappropriate for us to ask such questions of God? I mean, if you have read through the Bible, you would have realised that such questions were also asked by many of its writers. David, for example, asked God the following questions in the psalm we are looking at today, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” And in Psalm 22, David also penned these very words which were later echoed by Jesus as He was hanging on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?”