Where’s God now?

Photo by Julia Freeman-WoolpertJust like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God.
My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God.
When will I come and see God’s face?
My tears have been my food both day and night,
as people constantly questioned me,
 “Where’s your God now?”…

I will say to God, my solid rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I have to walk around, sad, oppressed by enemies?”

With my bones crushed, my foes make fun of me,
constantly questioning me: “Where’s your God now?”

Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed?
Why are you so upset inside?
Hope in God!
Because I will again give him thanks,
my saving presence and my God.  (Ps 42:1-3, 9-11, CEB)

The psalmist is overcome with trouble, longing to be rescued, to be vindicated in the eyes of those who taunt him for his faith.  His depression is palpable in a way that can only be communicated by metaphors of an oppressed and broken body: he dies of thirst; his bones are crushed.

This classic psalm of lament came to mind as I reflected on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7.  In the last few posts, we’ve noted how some of the believers in Corinth were making others anxious about their faith, slinging their restrictive slogans about what it meant to be a real Christian.  Paul’s response was to tell believers not to worry about their social status, but to remember instead that God had called them despite such human distinctions.  That, in turn, became the encouragement to not only “stay as you are,” but to stay “with God” in whatever social situation they were when God first called.

What does this have to do with Psalm 42?  Maybe nothing.  But here’s a thought.

There are different ways to be oppressed by an unbelieving world.  One is described by the psalmist.  Ha!  Look at you, some might say to the suffering believer.  If your God is so great–or even exists–why hasn’t your God rescued you?  Where’s your God now?  We might remember the taunts and jeers of Jesus’ opponents as he hung on the cross: “He saved others, but he can’t save himself. He’s the king of Israel, so let him come down from the cross now.  Then we’ll believe in him.  He trusts in God, so let God deliver him now if he wants to” (Matt 27:42-43a, CEB).

But the other form of oppression is more subtle, so much so that we wouldn’t label it as such.  It’s the oppression that comes from internalizing the values of a me-first and us-versus-them world, that leaves us vulnerable to the graceless anxiety of not measuring up, that tempts us to believe that God will not be with us unless we follow someone else’s religious rules.

So here’s the question.  If we do not “practice the presence of God” (to use Brother Lawrence‘s famous phrase) in everyday life, if we cannot understand what it might mean to “stay with God” in the situation in which we were called, then what answer will we give to the question “Where’s your God now?” when trouble strikes?