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 Perhaps the most common word coming out of the trials and tragedies of life is the question 'Why?'

Why me? Why has this happened? Why have all these innocent people suffered? Why does a good God allow this? Why doesn't God do something to stop it? Repeated in various ways, this one word encapsulates the hurt and the confusion. Why?

We find this hurting, puzzled 'why?' ten times in the Psalms.

      • Psalm 2:1,2: 'Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain ... against the LORD and against his Anointed One?'
      • Psalm 10:1: 'Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?'
      • Psalm 22:1: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?'
      • Psalm 42:9: 'Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?'
      • Psalm 43:2: 'Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning,  oppressed by the enemy?'
      • Psalm 44:23,24: 'Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? ... Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?'
      • Pslam 74:1: 'Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?'
      • Psalm 74:11: 'Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?'
      • Psalm 80:12: 'Why have you broken down its walls ...?'
      • Psalm 88:14: 'Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?'

Understood in their context in these Psalms, these verses put a boundary around the way we are permitted to ask and answer the question 'why?'

Boundary One: We are not permitted to infer by our 'why' that God is a weak, impotent being who is not able to act and intervene. As the first 'why' clearly indicates, God is the Sovereign Lord, against whom all national and individual opposition is ludicrous and ill-advised [Psalm 2].

Boundary Two: We are not permittet to conclude as a general rule that our suffering and God's failure to intervene in our suffering are directly due to our personal sin or failure. The 'why' in Psalms 2 and 22 indicate that God's Son, the sinless One, suffered both at the hands of man, and also the pain of God's silence.

Boundary Three: We are not permitted to automatically understand our experience of God's absence as an evidence or result of our poor level of godliness or spirituaility. Jesus himself felt his Father's absense and lack of response to his cries. [Psalm 22]. In the times when God seems silent, at the times when the 'why' is most painful, it may well be that God is busy in and through that silence and that pain, bringing about his grand, good and glorious purpose.

Boundary Four: We are not permitted to conclude that to ask 'why' is to deny our faith. In every one of the above Psalms, even in the most despariing, faith in God is expressed. In fact, in all except Psalm 88, the question is asked in the context of strong, confident faith.

Boundary Five: We are not permitted to allow our 'why' to stop us praying to God, even though he does not answer, and even though we live in the deepest darkness. In fact, our 'why' is, in those pits of despair, sometimes the only thing we can bring ourselves to say to him. [Psalm 88]. It is, after all, our acknowledgement that he is the Sovereign Lord. It is, after all, our acknowledgement that he is the God who cares.

Boundary Six: We are not permitted to understand our 'why' as our final word about either our situation or our God. Even in that deepest darkness we know that God is still 'the God who saves me' [88:1], and with this small shaft of light we can and must also ask that other 'why' - 'why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?' and then answer with 'Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God' [Psalm 42:5; see also 42:11 and 43:5].

'Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God'. Today, in the pit of despair, maybe I cannot praise him, but, knowing who he is, knowing what he has done for me: I will yet praise him.

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2008