Suffering and hardship bring with it a host of related challenges. Beyond the emotional pain suffering particularly targets our faith, and invites us to call into question the God we believed cared about us. Yet even when we face these moments of doubt, hurt, and anger God is prepared to meet us and care for us. God reveals His compassion for hurting people particularly by providing them the language they need to express their pain.
It is a strange and yet marvelous thing that God has included in His Holy inspired Word the testimony of those who doubt Him, or who even become frustrated with Him. If God is the supreme author of the Scripture then He controlled all that was included in the Canon. He determined what was written, what was said, and how it was said. Every word of the Scriptures is “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), and among those words are expressions of doubt and frustration. God chose to include these words for our good.
Psalm 42 serves as one remarkable example of God’s compassionate care. We read:
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” (v. 1-3)
The text depicts the psalmist in a desperate state. He longs for God like a thirsty deer searching for water, but his thirst is never quenched. He wonders if he will ever meet with God again. He is in such despair and hopelessness that he has even lost his appetite. His tears are his only food. Perhaps most heartbreaking, the flowing tears seem to raise more and more doubt in his mind about God. He phrases it as thought his tears are mocking him, “Where is your God? Doesn’t he care about all you’re going through?” The scene depicted is one familiar to many sufferers. It echoes the cries and doubts of their own heart.
The psalmist reflects on the changes his suffering and sorrow brought to his life. He wasn’t always this depressed and down. He says:
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. (v. 4)
He describes his former life, before sorrow took over. He used to love to worship God. He used to lead others in the procession to the temple. He used to have joy and used to enjoy the festivals. His life was not always characterized by this sorrow, heartbreak, and despair. Sometimes the memory of who we used to be before consuming sorrow makes our current experience even more discouraging. The psalmist knows those feelings well.
The most important thing about this passage, however, is not that the psalmist can relate to our pain, but that God chose to include these words in His Word. The language of the text can get even more pointed. In verse 7 the psalmist describes his pain as that which God is causing, or at least exacerbating. We read:
Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me
His suffering feels like God is sending wave after wave to wash over him. One wave crashes down on the psalmist and just as he comes up for air another shoves him down again. What is God doing? Why is He allowing this to happen? The psalmist cries out in desperation?
I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (v. 9)
He feels abandoned by the God who could save him. Like so many other sufferers, the long-term pain in our lives raises question about the goodness and compassion of God. But the presence of this text is the evidence that He still cares. God had these words written for our good! God knows how we feel. Of all the things he could have included in His Holy Word, He included statements o
One of the most painful things about feelings of despair is that the overwhelming negative emotions can make it difficult to process how we feel. What words seem adequate to describe the pain of grief, the ache of despair, the turmoil of trauma? What words truly explain how deep the hurt goes? God wrote Psalm 42, and 22, and countless other psalms (including Psalm 88 which is the darkest psalm in the whole Bible) to give us the words we needed to express our pain, loss, confusion, and doubt. How great is the compassion of God. He gave us words to help us articulate our hurt to Him. He gave us words to help us express our doubts to Him.
This does not mean that our pain just goes away, but what a comfort it is to know that we are understood, and more importantly that we are understood by the God of the universe. He may not answer every prayer as we ask for relief and help. He may not grant the exact desire of our heart in the moment. He does, however, want us to believe that He understands, that He cares, and that He is with us. He cares so deeply that He gives us words to help us express how we feel, even how we feel about Him.
God cares about your hurts and doubts. Read His Word believing that He wrote these things for you! God’s Word reveals His compassion on hurting and doubting people.