Turn with me to the 42nd Psalm, Psalm 42, and we've been singing about this Psalm already - and the verse on the front of your bulletin is from this Psalm also - and this is the Psalm that we're going to be thinking about for a few moments this morning. Psalm 42 and beginning to read at verse 1: "As the deer panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat", or my food, "day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life. I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God? Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God".
Let's come before the Lord and ask His help, and bow before Him in a word of prayer. Let us pray: Our Father, we thank Thee for Thy word. We thank Thee that Thy word is a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our pathway - and our Father, we need Thy help as we come to it now. We do not want the words of men to be heard but, Lord, we long for the word of God to thunder forth in this place - and yet with the thundering of it, that the still small voice of the Holy Spirit may whisper to those who need to hear it. For we ask these things, taking the power of God for our own, in Jesus name. Amen.
Elie Wiesel wrote a book, the title of his book was 'La Nuit' (that's French - now I'm not much good at French), but translated it just simply means: 'The Night'. It was his autobiography of his experience in Auschwitz. And the story takes place in Buna, the camp that was allotted to Auschwitz, and it tells of a young Jewish man - in fact two, three young Jewish men who were hanged alongside of one another. They were hanged by SS officers in front of thousands of inmates, who were obliged to file past them - one by one - and stare fully into their faces as they hung there upon the ropes. The two adult men were dead, but the child right in the middle of them was so light that he remained still alive. And Elie writes in his book these words, and I quote: 'For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. We had to look at him full in the face, he was still alive when I passed in front of him - his tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed. Behind me I heard a man asking 'Where is God now?', and I heard a voice within me answer him 'Where is He? Here He is! He is hanging here on the gallows'. That night the soup tasted of corpses'.
This man's experience in what we could term - it would be an inaccurate term - but we could term it the nearest thing, perhaps that this earth has ever experienced, near to hell on earth. When he looked at it, when he saw the suffering, when he saw the anguish, when he saw the pain that fellow man could inflict on their fellow human beings, he was forced within himself to ask the question: 'Where is God? Where is He?'. I wonder have you ever asked that question? Perhaps a situation in your own personal life, perhaps a situation of someone that you know about who is in a terrible turmoil, who is in terrible illness, sickness - whatever it is - and you look at them, and you look perhaps on the television screen and you see the things that are going on in our planet - children that are like skeletons - and you cry out within yourself, you maybe wouldn't say it in church, you maybe wouldn't talk to your fellow Christians about it, but you ask yourself: 'Where is God? Where is He when this is going on? Is God dead? Is God really there? Is there a God at all?'. I wonder have you ever asked the famous question - three letter word that is probably the question that's asked by children all the time, but if we're honest with ourselves, as big children, we ask the question every day of our lives at times: 'Why? Why?'. Something inside us builds up until our emotions and our soul, our very inner being, cry out to man and to God, and ask: 'Why is this allowed to happen? Why is God letting this happen? Why is God even doing this? Where is God among all of it?'.
Some would say that humanity is futile. Humanity is futile, all of this life on earth is totally worthless and pointless. The contemporary artist Francis Bacon believed that women and men were futile wretches, there was no point to any of it. He writes: 'Man now realises that he is an accident, that he is completely a futile being, that he has to play the game without reason' - there's no point to it at all. The French thinker Jean-Paul Sartre believed that because, as far as he was concerned, God did not exist 'life was no ultimate attitude at all'. Samuel Beckett conveyed that attitude, and conveyed that philosophy of life in his play 'Breath'. Do you know what the play was? The play consisted of 30 seconds, there were no actors, there were no conversations. The whole of the script was a simple sigh of human life, from a baby's cry to a man's last breath before he died. That was his summary of life. This attitude to life, this attitude that it is pointless, that there is no God in it, that God - if He even is there - is looking on as a spectator, laughing, He doesn't care about us - this philosophy of life is taking over our society today, and it can even lead, ultimately, to suicide. The writer Ernest Hemingway believed that, quote: 'Life is a rough track leading from nowhere to nowhere' - and, on the 2nd July 1961, Hemingway shot himself with a shotgun and he blew away his entire cranial skull. No point to it at all. And perhaps if we could see, with a supernatural telescope, into the heart of Ernest Hemingway we could perhaps see a question - an indelible question - forged upon his heart with a dagger: 'Where is God? Where is God in the midst of my pain? Where is God in the midst of my heartache, in the midst of my mental stress, in the midst of my illness, in the midst of my broken relationship? Where is God now?'.
Where is God when my husband leaves me? Where is God when my wife dies? Where is God when that child I loved is taken away? Where is God when my business fails? Where is God when my roof caves in? Where is He? Come on! Take down the facade, Christian. Take away the mask, Christians - answer the question, it's worth answering: 'Where is God when these things happen to me? Where is He?'. Have you ever asked that question? David, in the Psalm that we read, asked exactly the same question. But he asked it because there were those around him who were asking it of him, and he got to hear it so much that he began to imbibe it and think it himself - and he began to say, 'Where is God? Where is God in my life?'.
The background to the Psalm that we read this morning is simply this: that David, and some of the Jews, were exiled far north of Palestine. He was taken away from Jerusalem, he was taken away from his home, and in a foreign land, in foreign sod, he cries out for his homeland. He misses it. But remember that David was a King, and David was the King of the people of God, God's chosen people, and perhaps the thoughts were coursing through his mind: 'Why has God forsaken His people? Why am I here in a foreign land? I can't go to the temple to pray, I can't bring my daily worship to God'. And people were walking by him of another religion, of another nationality, looking at him and saying: 'Where is your God now? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who tells fables about going across [the] Red Sea, about earthquakes, and lightning from heaven, and ten commandments? Where is God now? He delivered you out of Egypt. Where is your God now? Where is He?'. So David becomes downcast in his soul, and for all we know he could start think that question himself: 'Where is God?'.
I want to ask you this morning, in your life this morning - believer or unbeliever - is there a spiritual drought? In your life, like David's, is there a drought? You see, David, in verses 1, 2, 3 and 4, he cries out to God, he says: 'As the deer pants after the water brook, so pants my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before Him?' - he is longing for God. You can see it, can't you? That deer, the bones sticking out of it all over, its skin and fur parched as it walks in the desert, its eyesight weakened, its tongue hanging out as it's looking for refreshment, freshness - it's looking for water, and it pants out for it. And just in that same way, David is panting for his God, he just wants to see God. In all of his mess, in all of his crisis, in all of his anguish - all he wants to do is feel the hand of God on him and to know that God is there. Like the traveller in a desert, like the spaniel in the hot day's sun, like the alcholic gasping for a drink, David is coming to God and David is gasping in thirst for Him. And in David's depression, in David's despondency, he has an insatiable thirst for God's presence - He wants God to be near him!
When we look at verse 2 we see that - we know ourselves that hunger, you can put up with hunger for a little while, but thirst is something that you cannot put up with - and it got so unbearable that he's crying out to come before God, he has an intense craving to see God, to meet God! Is that you today? Of course, every Christian should have an intense desire to meet God, we all know that. But perhaps you're here this morning, and there is something in your life, like David - there is something that has shattered your life, there is something in your life that seems to have made it pointless. Your life, as far as you can see, is over and you're asking, you're just wanting - as if God could come down, and God could lift you up like a little child and take you and nurse you. You want God to be there. If that's you this morning, do you know what I want you to do? I want you to thank God, thank God that you have a thirst after Him! It's not nice - and what many of us are going through may not be nice - but thank Him for the fact that you have a thirst, you long for answers!
In verse 3 we see that David says: 'I stopped eating. I hadn't eaten for long time, and the only food I had, the only meat I had was the salt that was in my tears. My tears were my food, day and night! That's all I had! That's my diet!'. And you all know that tears show earnestness, don't they? You never know a person's more sincere than when they shed a tear - and David's shedding tears In the midst of his sorrow, in the midst of his pain, he is at the end of his tether and he is crying out to God, 'Oh God, look at my tears'. And God says 'Look David, I'm taking your tears into a bottle, I'm counting them - they count before me, they're holy water!'. Your tears count in the sight of God.
But do you know what David does? He makes a mistake that many of us make, and in verse 4 he starts to look within himself, and he says: 'When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday'. He's saying, 'When I remember, I pour out my soul within me' - do you know what he's doing? He's destroying himself, he's becoming introverted, he's becoming introspective, he's looking within himself for an answer, he's looking within himself to blame, to apportion guilt upon himself. And then he begins to think of the good old days, many of us have done that. He thinks of when he was in Jerusalem, and when he was with the multitude, and when he went up to the temple on the Sabbath, on holyday, and he worshipped the Lord - and maybe you're here this morning and you used to worship the Lord regularly but you can't do it any more. You used to come to church regularly, but you can't bring yourself to it, perhaps you're listening on the tape and you can't get out - there's something stopping you, and it's not illness, it's not health, and you feel like David. Maybe you can't come, maybe you won't come - and maybe all that you can think of is the days that used to be, when things were alright, when things weren't the way that they are now. And you say with the hymnwriter:
'I sigh to think of happier days,
When Thou, Oh God, wast nigh,
When every heart was tuned with praise,
And none was more blessed than I!'
But those days are gone. And like two men, David's reason reasons with his faith, and David's faith reasons with his sorrow, and David's hope argues with his sorrows and his anguish, whether God is true. Is He true to His word? Is He with me through the darkness, through the clouds and through the shadows? Is He there? Is He with me? - and David's in a drought.
But then we see that David longs for different days. He talks in verse 6 of the Jordan, '...the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, and the hill of Mizar...' - and we know now that those places were places of great water. But I want you to see how the tone changes within this Psalm, because one minute he's in a drought and he's looking for water, but the next minute we find that David is drowning. He has gone from drought to drowning. And the very source that he thought would solve his problem - the very thing that he thought would give him life - it is the thing that overwhelms him, it's the thing that drowns him - and nowhere, no matter were he turns or where he looks, no matter who answers his question, he cannot find satisfaction, he cannot find peace. He begins to drown.
I don't know whether you've ever heard of William Cowper, but he wrote such hymns as 'There is a fountain filled with blood' - some great hymns he wrote. But William Cowper, at the age of 32, passed through a great crisis in his life. William Cowper tried to end his life by taking poison, and then when that failed he tried, and hired, a taxi - in those days a horse-drawn cart - and he ordered the driver to take him to the Thames. And he went to the bridge there, but on that night it was a very foggy night and the driver wouldn't take him any further - so, disgusted, he got off the cart and he walked to the bridge himself, only to find him[self], by the providence of God, standing at his own doorstep. Frustrated and angry at this, he went into the house and he tied a rope to the ceiling and he tried to hang himself. He was found unconscious, but alive, on the floor. The next morning, he fell upon a knife - [only] for the blade of that knife to break, and his life again was spared. This is a hymnwriter now! The next morning, in an unusual fit of joy that just seemed to come upon him, he lifted the word of God from a shelf and he opened at the epistle to the Romans. And whatever he read - I don't even know what it was he read - but from it he found great strength, he found great relief and he penned these words as he thought of his past day:
'God moves in mysterious ways,
His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Blind unbelief is sure to fail
And scare will wash in vain.
God is His own interpreter
And He will make it plain'.
David goes to the places where water is found, and he cannot find relief, he cannot find satisfaction - and outside he says 'Deep calleth unto deep', what does that mean? It means this: that perhaps there was thunder in the sky, perhaps there was lightning - and it seemed that that lightning, that thunder was echoing the anguish and the brokenness that was in David's heart. Echoing around his soul was this terrible storm of grief and pain. It was like the beat of a drum, you know when you hear a band going down the street and you nearly feel the beat within you - it was like that. It's like a stringed instrument, I'm told that when you tune a stringed instrument in unison with another stringed instrument exactly right, and you pluck one of the instruments, without plucking the other, the note will sound. And David, from all the turmoil outside, could feel his turmoil within - and he felt that the deep of the sea with all its devastating anger was within him, destroying his soul and destroying his spirit. That's what Jonah said, you know, in Jonah chapter 2 and verse 3, when he was being tossed to and fro in the sea, what did he cry out? He cried out what David cried out in verse 7: 'All thy waves and billows have come over me!'. And David felt that he was drowning.
David felt, in verse 9, that he was forgotten - and his faith was inquiring of God: 'Lord have You forgotten me? Have You put me on the shelf? Have You forgot to care for me? Have You forgot to love me? Have You forgotten Your promises towards me?'. And in verse 10 he feels as if there's a dagger going into his very bones, he feels - in our terms - as if there's a bullet going between his ribs, right into his heart and soul, and it's so, so painful! Have you ever been there? In drought? In drowning?
I want you to see, as we close this morning, that David had a divine hope. We see it in verse 8, in verse 9 and verse 11 - and David says, he just sums it up, and he says, 'Why art thou cast down, O my soul?', he answers the deep crying within him, 'And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him who is the help of my countenance and my God'. When Sir Harry Lauder lost his only son - he was killed in World War I - he turned to his best friend and he said this, and I quote: 'When a man comes to a thing like this there are just three ways out of it. There is drink, there is despair, and there is God. By His grace the last is for me'.
If I can tell you with all that I can muster up within me, on the authority of this Psalm - and listen, I don't know what your anguish, I don't know what your turmoil is, I don't want to even venture and think of how awful it is - but listen! Listen to me! Listen to God! God is there! He is there! And the world might say, 'Where is your God? He is dead!'. But listen! God says to you in love, and listen to His voice, you've been yearning for it, you've been thirsting for it, you've been longing for those words of a lover in compassion to you: 'I am there!'. Do you hear Him? And as if, like gulps of divine mercy, as David - like Jonah was tossed to and fro in those great breakers and rollers - he gets those gasps of divine air and grace, and he feels the life flowing back within him...and he remembers that a loss of the sense of God's love is not a loss of that love itself. Did you hear that? Just because you can't feel it, just because you can't see it, just because you're not aware of it, it doesn't mean it's not there - and in fact, God could be nearer to you today than He has ever been!
'O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I flee from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there'. That's what God's saying to you this morning: 'If you go to heaven My child, I am there!' - '...if I descend to hell...' - 'If you make your bed in hell, I am there!'. 'If I take the wings of the morning...', if you try to flee from God, He says, 'I'm there, I'll get you, I'm with you! 'If I dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea...' - 'I'm there My child! I'm there! Even there shall My hand lead thee, and My right hand shall uphold thee'.
Listen! God is love! Christian, non-Christian, listen! Unsaved one - God is love! In all your anguish, in all your disaster He wants to take you, He wants to embrace you, He wants to love you - in His mercy, in His grace, in His compassion, He wants you! God is love and God is faithful - and because God is love and God is faithful, David says that there is hope: 'Hope thou in God' - God is there! He loves me, He'll never fail me. Hope in God!
Don't murder yourself for asking the question 'Why?'. If we had time this morning we could turn to the Lord Jesus Christ when He was on the cross, and some of the most famous words that He spoke were these: 'My God! My God! Why? Why hast Thou forsaken Me? Thy Son - why have You done it?'. Now no-one can tell me that He didn't know why. Do you honestly think that the Son of God didn't know why He was on the cross? Sure He went through His whole earthly ministry telling people that He was going to the cross, telling His disciples and sharing with them why He was going to the cross - that the Son of Man must die, and the third day be raised from the dead for the forgiveness, for the remission, of sins. He taught that was what His life was about - about him dying, and rising, and forgiving! Why did He ask 'why' on the cross then - if He knew? Do you know what that tells me, my friend? It tells me this: answers aren't any good. Christ had the reason, He had the reason on the cross why He was there - for sin, for God's holiness - He had it, He knew it, yet He still cried why! Why? Because it wasn't a cry from His intellect, it wasn't a theological cry - it was a cry of a Son to a Father from His heart! He knew why, but His heart still cried out to His Father.
I don't know why you're suffering - and let me tell you, nobody but God can tell you why. But listen, my friend, this morning: the answer to that question wouldn't make a difference to you, it wouldn't ease your pain, in fact it may even amplify your pain. But what you need to know is this, this morning, listen from David, who testified of it in his life: that in the midst of your sorrow, your anguish, your pain, in your storm - God is there!! He is there, and He isn't going anywhere. He says, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee'. He says, 'Fear thou not, for I am with thee. Be not dismayed for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee, yea I will help thee, yea I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness'. He says, 'The Lord of hosts is with us! The God of Jacob is our refuge!'. Listen, my friend, in your pain: God's grace is sufficient for thee.
Spurgeon was once on a boat floating down the Thames, and he spied a little fish, and he thought about that fish, and how that fish - how much water that fish would swallow daily. And he thought of the River Thames, that great river, saying to the fish: 'Little fish drink as much as you like'. And God is saying to you, my friend, in your pain, in your heartache, in your anguish, in your bereavement - God is saying: 'My grace, here it is My child. Drink as much as you like'. Will you take it? Will you feel Him lift you up in His arms of love? Will you let Him embrace you? Will you let Him comfort you? Will you have that hope that is in God?
Our Father, we thank Thee for this great assurance, this great comfort and balm - that in the times of life's storms, when the sea billows roll, we know that we have a refuge, we have a safety, we have a cave, we have a covert in the breast and in the bosom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, help us - all of us - to take shelter there today. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.
Where Is God When Things Go Wrong?, by John Blanchard
We live in what has been called 'a world with ragged edges'. Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, fires, famine and other natural disasters kill millions of people and injure countless others, sometimes wiping out huge numbers within a few hours.
Every day, accidents claim an untold number of victims. Planes crash, trains are derailed, road vehicles collide, ships are lost at sea, buildings collapse, bridges give way, trees fall, machinery malfunctions. To make matters worse, disease cuts relentless swathes through humankind, causing immeasurable weakness, pain and fear, while 'man's inhumanity to man' brings a terrible toll of suffering.
Yet the Bible claims that God is in sole and sovereign control of everything that happens in the entire universe, that He 'works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will' and that He is 'compassionate and gracious' and 'abounding in love'. Is there any way in which all of this can hold together? The answer may surprise you...
Available to buy from evangelicalpress.org, but also available here by kind permission as a free PDF download, so that you can know the answer to this often asked question! [Note: This download is for personal use only and should not be printed or copied. The book can be ordered singly or in bulk from Evangelical Press]
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Where Is God?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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