Where was God when the Twin Towers fell? When the tsunami swept away thousands of lives in Indonesia? When the woman was brutally raped and murdered? The child abused? Christians beheaded by ISIS? Where was God? This psalm is a lament of the community that asks these question. Where was God when the Temple was destroyed? Has God forsaken his sheep?
The psalm starts with the question, “O God, why do you cut us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?” (1) The writer appeals to God to remember his people. He tells how God’s enemies came into the sanctuary, hacking away and burning, “Your foes have roared in the midst of your holy place; they set up their own signs for signs. At the upper entrance they hacked the wooden trellis with axes. And then all its carved wood they broke down with hatchets and hammers. They set your sanctuary on fire; to the ground they desecrated the dwelling place of your name.” (4-7)
There is no longer any prophet in the land to speak God’s word, “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long.” (9) He asks, how long, God? Why don’t you do something? “How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, why do you keep your right hand in your bosom?” (10-11)
In the midst of this, the writer breaks into a song of praise, recounting the story of how God created the world, “Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. You did divide the sea by your might; you did break the heads of the dragons on the waters.” (12-13) “Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the luminaries and the sun. You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you have made summer and winter.” (16-17)
He recounts all that God has done as a basis for his appeal. Certainly so great a God isn’t going to sit idly by while unbelievers scoff at his name. “Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs, and an impious people reviles your name.” (18)
After extolling God’s greatness, the writer return to his pleas, reminding God of his covenant with his people. “Have regard for your covenant; for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence. Let not the downtrodden be put to shame; let the poor and needy praise your name.” (20-21)
The psalm ends with no resolution. The writer is still calling upon God to do something. “Arise, O God, plead your cause; remember how the impious scoff at you all the day! Do not forget the clamor of your foes, the uproar of your adversaries which goes up continually.” (22-23)
The writer has no answer. He remembers how great God is and sings his praise, but doesn’t know why God doesn’t do something. Sometimes in life, we don’t get answers, only more questions. When grieving losses, we are left with only one recourse, to call upon our God in our neediness and anguish. Even if we get no answer, we call upon our God.
Have there been times in your life when God has been silent? How do you handle such times?