This post is for my beloved friends who have recently suffered unexpected tragedy.
Recently, I found myself between two worlds. In one, I sit in our den, a fire in the fire place with a cup of coffee and an open Bible to the Psalms. My kids are mingling and oogling around and I dig into the Scriptures with peace (these days it’s Psalm 29). The other world is in my mind, where recent conversations, events and emails linger and they trouble me.
World 1. As I read Psalm 29, I am struck by the two voices of the Psalm. The first voice is ours: verses 1-2 command that all creatures give God praise, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name” (v.2) is an apt summary. The voice of the created is praise. Verses 3-11 characterize the voice of God, the second voice. His is one of great power: “the voice of the Lord flashes forth with flames of fire” (v.7) is a good summary. Even more the end of the Psalm highlights God is enthroned as king forever: a king whose voice is power.
This, with the last part of the psalm, is what strikes me:
May the LORD give strength to His people! May the LORD bless His people with peace!
World 2. There’s the rub. As I look into the events of life I see things that are apparently inconsistent with the power and blessing of God. I recall the emails and phone calls with good friends who’ve suddenly lost jobs, fathers, mothers, babies and income. Those things, also, appear inconsistent with the power and blessing of God. So, this Psalm, though it promises wonderful blessings for the people of God, combined with the events of life (mine included), leaves me to wonder “Am I one of those people?”
Life in World 2, Christian, makes you wonder if there’s something that you have done for which you are being punished. Perhaps you wonder as I did above if you are even one of God’s children? You doubt the power of God’s voice of Psalm 29 and think, “If God is so powerful, then why couldn’t He stop this?” Or worse: the costs of walking with this God are starting to rise in your heart and with it, your fears. “If He is willing to take my baby, then what else?” “If He won’t answer my prayers for the salvation of my mother, then what else?” Peter’s words ring in our ears and we, too, wonder at its answer “God, I have given up everything to follow You, and this is what happens?”
You fear these thoughts. But you have them nonetheless. Yet, Christian, something else inside you tells you you’ve got it all wrong. The pain and anxiety is as close as a fleeting thought but, if you are honest, you can’t just simply clench your fist and cry out to God and say, “This is wrong and You are wrong!” Oh, but the events in your life pull you to statements like that with power that is so very strong. It almost feels right to lash out, “How can the answer to my faithfulness be such pain from you, O God?” But, still, you linger on the outside of total devastation because something inside you tells you you’ve got it all wrong.
How do I know? How can you see it? It’s the voice. That voice, the voice of the God of power, has something to say to you and me. Though you may not be ready to hear it, He has words for you in the midst of this terror and pain.
Read on: Psalm 30. Verses 2-3:
O LORD God, I cried to you for help and you have healed me. O LORD, you have brought up my soul from the grave; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
Soul-life and restoration: our destination. But the pathway is often brutal: don’t miss that these words assume the Psalmist was in great trouble: he was sick or diseased, perhaps he was even on death’s bed. Why was he there? Why did God do that? What was the point of covenanting with a people and then bringing them to the bed of death and trouble? We might want to go straight to the fact that the Psalmist cried out to God and He answered. We avoid thinking of the portrait of God at the helm of such devastation for it is too much to behold. Yet, we can’t miss the fact that you and the Psalmist are in the same bed: suffering, tragedy and pain.
Why? No answer. Why? No answer, again. Why? Just no answer.
It’s not as simple as “God’s trying to test me,” or “He must be about to bless me, so He’s preparing me,” or “I must’ve deserved it,” or some other ultra-simplistic, terribly unsatisfying answer. In our efforts to make life understandable, we make it domesticated. In the process, we shrink God down to size and our hope goes with Him. Can you simply locate the death of a baby in the womb? Is that satisfyingly explained by “this is just a sinful world”? We think we’re being noble and wise by trying to explain the inexplicable and unbelievable tragedy away with some pithy Christian bookstore coffee-cup answer. Don’t be tempted; it will not act as balm on the pain. You will not be satisfied and then you’ll look at God with anger as if He is the culprit. No, go back to the voice of power. That’s where the answers lie.
In Psalm 30, we can’t miss that the Psalmist DID cry out to God. He knew from Scripture and his own experiences that the voice of God was indeed one of power and blessing. And the result of the psalmist’s cry was God’s action. But, perhaps not as he intended.
Verses 4-5 are helpfully honest:
Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Saints. Anger and favor. Moments and lifetime. Weeping and joy. Night and morning. These are like puzzle pieces from different boxes all jumbled together. They don’t seem to fit for us; we assume the puzzle is flawed and we throw it away. Then we resolve never to buy another from that company. But, wait a moment, what if the puzzle is more complicated than we thought? What if these pieces ARE meant to be in the same box; even the same life? What if the portrait they depict is far richer and full of wonder with more depth and complexity than we imagine?
- Wouldn’t that be glorious?
Christian friends, beloved of God and saints, the truth is that God is powerful in ways that can’t be imitated or even explained. Just so, He is wise and purposeful. Yet also, He is loving, dedicated and in full-on covenant with you. “God is love” is written for you. You will search the Scriptures and your own experience and find these things to be as obvious as true. This is not a simple puzzle: He unleashes the angels of death while at the same time commissioning the angels of comfort and ministry. They stand side by side executing different pieces of the same plan. Neither one nor the other is on his own; together and at different times in different ways on the same piece of real estate: your life, they do the bidding of the King.
Wait, friends, for Joy comes in the morning. He has a name:
I, Jesus have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the church. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. (Revelation 22:16)
Remember that the voice of the created is praise. Our circumstances – world #2 – can’t convince us that the voice of God is powerless. In Christ, you are one of those people recipients of the power of God. Though its power is sometimes clothed in tragedy, its end is not. Praise will come in the morning.