Sometimes I read the Psalms and I think David had multiple personality disorder. One second he’s crying out in anguish that God has forgotten him, forsaken him, that God remains silent and hides his face. Then with the very next breath, David is saying things like, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:6)
But then I pause and I think, David, my BFF, I totally get you!
Because there is a part of me, the part that was born and raised in the church, the part that attended Christian college and has completed Bible studies galore, the part that has memorized Bible verses and taught Sunday School — that part of me holds tightly to the truths that are rooted deeply in my soul. God loves me. God draws near the brokenhearted. He works all things together for good for those who love him. He has good plans to prosper me. He will never leave me or forsake me. His love overcomes the world. His light drives out darkness. His love never fails.
I know these things. I do believe them to be true. It’s just that sometimes, they don’t feel so true. Sometimes I feel like David in the Psalms. Sometimes my heart hurts and my soul cries, “Will you forget me forever? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:1-2) Some days I’m right there with my BFF David wondering why the Lord stands so far off, why he hides himself in times of trouble.
As my spirit grapples with this dichotomy, I dig into the Bible and marvel that David and I are not alone. Job, Sarah, Joseph, Hannah, Moses, Jeremiah, Martha, Thomas, Paul, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the disciples hidden in the upstairs room. Over and over, I see in the Bible people whose dreams were dashed, whose plans didn’t pan out. I see people who obeyed God and were rejected, beaten, left for dead. I see people who believed God and still suffered.
I read Job’s anguished cry that he wished God would just kill him already! “Oh that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off!” (Job 6:8) And I see Jeremiah’s deep loneliness and grief, “This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit.” (Lamentations 1:16) And Martha’s disappointment with Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21)
The people I read about in the Bible believed God and still suffered. Their stories don’t all have happy endings, tied up with a cute red bow. I see messy lives, complicated characters, distress, disappointment. I see the man who came to Jesus and said, “I believe. Help now my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) Doubt and fear mixed with faith. Heartache blended with hope. Discouragement with a tinge of belief. This is what I see in the Bible.
But too often, it’s not what I hear from believers. Too often, it seems that the Church has put a marketing spin on the life of faith. I hear about people who tithe and are blessed with a raise or the check in the mail to pay a bill. Give to God and He will give back to you, pressed down, shaken up and running over. I hear people tell stories of how they stuck it out in a hard marriage and God restored their love and gave them a marriage better than ever. Obey God, even when it’s hard, and He will give blessings and prosperity. Or the person who was sick and prayed and was made well. The prayers offered in faith will make the sick person well. Or the couple who prayed for a baby and finally got pregnant. Whatever you ask in my name, you will receive.
We take snippets of scripture out of context and apply them to our circumstances with our limited understanding of the huge scope of God’s mind and plans. And we can name ten people with a testimony to prove that everything always works out for good, and by good we mean – of course – an obviously happy, tidy ending where everyone gets what they want.
But what about when it doesn’t? What about the sweet godly couple who have faithfully served God for years – tithing, serving in the church, being faithful to each other, praying, reading the Bible, loving their neighbors – but have endured unimaginably hard times – the death of children, house fires, health crises, job loss, financial calamity? What about the family who follows God’s call to be missionaries and never has enough support, yet has one hit after another to their bank account, leaving them in deep debt? Or the family who follows God’s call to ministry, only to be mistreated and abused by those they serve?
Obedience does not always equal blessing in the way we understand. Sometimes obeying God results in more suffering. Sometimes walking in the Light brings pain and heartache. Sometimes we plead with God to please answer our prayers, give us what we’re asking for, and He stays silent. For years and years. And maybe we never get the answer our hearts are hoping for.
Like David, I do believe the Lord is on his heavenly throne (Psalm 11:4) and God is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer (Psalm 18:2). I believe God can give strength that does not fail. (Isaiah 40) I believe it all. But some days, just like Jeremiah, I still feel like God has shut out my prayers. (Lamentations 3:8) Like my soul-sister Martha, I feel like Jesus just didn’t come through for me. (John 11)
And I’m not even going to try to reconcile this juxtaposition of emotions. I believe God sees my heart and understands. I trust his grace is enough for my discouragement, my disappointment, my fear, my pain. I don’t always see the way God is working things out for good. His plans sure don’t always seem good to me. So, in those moments, I sit before him with my busted hopes and unfulfilled dreams. I pour out my broken heart pieces to him and ask where he is, why he seems so hidden. I hold out my tiny belief, my little faith, and ask him to help my big unbelief. And I know that sounds like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, that maybe I, too, sound like I have multiple personality disorder. But if David prayed such conflicted prayers and was the apple of God’s eye, then I trust God is ok when my emotions don’t line up with my beliefs and my soul experiences discord.
And if you are holding shredded dreams and weighed down by deep disappointments, I get it. David, Martha, Job, Jeremiah — we all get it. I’ll sit with you in the messy mixture of faith and fear, hope and discouragement, belief and unbelief.