Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
The psalmist addressed urgent questions to God. Where are you God? Where are you when we really need you? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
These are desperate, challenging questions. The psalmist is not posing these questions to a religious leader or scholar in hopes of getting some resolution to a merely intellectual problem. The questions are passionate and personal questions about God that the psalmist is bringing directly to God.
Many of us have ideas about prayer that actually keep us from praying. We may have the idea that we have to be polite or formal or meek when we pray. Or that we have to muster up the right thoughts or feelings. It may not occur to us that we can bring our doubts and fears and terrible questions about God to God.
These unspoken rules about prayer are probably a reflection of what we have been taught about prayer. They may even be a reflection of the unhealthy communication patterns in the families in which we grew up. As we can see from this text from the Psalms, and from many others like it throughout Scripture, these rules are not found in Scripture. Quite the opposite. We are shown over and over again by people of great faith and people struggling with faith, that questioning God is a vital kind of prayer.
For those of us who have ever doubted God’s unfailing love for us, this kind of prayer can be frightening. We may imagine that God will respond to our anguished questions about our experience of being abandoned by God with anger and further abandonment. This may be so scary for us that we have a difficult time letting ourselves know that these questions about God exist inside us.
But the truth is that we all experience deep losses in life. We all witness terrible traumas in the lives of others. We suffer unjustly and we don’t understand how God can allow this. We need to know that we can rely on God to help us, even if, at times, the evidence seems to suggest that we are on our own.
Terrible suffering and injustices happen in this world all the time. If we aren’t distracting ourselves or numbing ourselves to these realities we are likely to find ourselves with questions we want to ask God—questions very much like the ones the psalmist asked.
There is nothing easy about these questions. But there are times in our lives when they are the most honest prayer we have. God’s desire is for us to bring these urgent, painful questions directly to God in prayer. God wants us to know that this form of prayer is welcome, accepted and even honored by God.
Why did this happen?
Did you forget me?
Did you forget these others?
Do you not care?
Where are you?
Where have you been?
Write your own urgent questions about God. What has taken place in your life, in the past or in the present, that has left you with questions about God? Write a prayer describing the specific events and issues that you have faced or are facing. Take some time to see if there is a central question about God which emerges from these reflections. Bring this question about God to God. Let your question be a prayer.
from An Enduring Embrace: Experiencing the Love at the Heart of Prayer,
by Juanita Ryan, 2012