When God Seems Distant
Scripture: Psalm 6:1–10
When God Seems Distant
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
It's been said when pastors start out they are primarily concerned about the externals of the church - people in the pews, the size of the building, their popularity in the community. Then they transition into a desire to have their doctrine grounded. They immerse themselves in theological books and discussions. Then, if they are still in the pastorate, they find themselves settling into the fact that nothing is more important than cultivating their personal relationship with God. The journey transfers from seeking to know about God to seeking to really know God.
This is why I have been really stressing the need for all of us to be reading our Bibles daily. And not just reading them as if you are fulfilling a responsibility, but reading them whereby God is really teaching you and speaking to your heart and deepening your relationship with Him. Remember the goal is to walk away each day with at least one thought that you can meditate on and easily in a couple sentences communicate to another person.
So what we are striving for is a relationship with God. A relationship that is robust and intimate and growing and prioritized over all other things in our lives. This is what God ultimately desires for His children. He is not impressed with empty religion. He is not impressed with passionless worship. He is not impressed with unapplied biblical knowledge. He is not impressed with reluctant obedience. He wants your heart. He loves you and He wants you to love Him. He wants you to want to know Him in deeper ways than you ever have before.
If you do not understand what I am talking about or understand but do not experience what I am talking about, you will not understand Psalm 6 this morning. The inscription says David wrote this Psalm. We know David was a man after God's own heart. This Psalm is about a situation that all will experience who have a deep relationship with God. Let me explain.
For the true believer, nothing is greater than the nearness of God. When prayer is sweet. When the words jump off the pages of the Bible. When peace with God has your soul singing and joy with God has never made you feel better. When sin is not pleasurable. When you feel like God is right there, smiling upon you, so close you feel as if you can touch Him.
Yet the Christian knows this is not always the case. Sometimes these realities are not experienced. Sometimes God seems distant almost as if He doesn't exist or has chosen to remove Himself from our lives. Good theologians have wrestled as to why this is the case and various answers have been offered, but one thing they agree upon is that when we sin we create a wedge between ourselves and God thus causing the feeling of separation.
It's not that God will ever abandon one of His children, we have His promise on that, it is just that there is a breach in our relationship. It feels that He is distant. It feels that He is displeased. It feels that He is disciplining us as a loving Father. Have you ever experienced this? Can you identify with deep anguish that takes place? This is David's agonizing situation as he composed Psalm 6 as he waited for God to restore their relationship.
Aware of His sin, brokenhearted, repentant and contrite in spirit, David says in verse 1, "O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your wrath."
David felt the separation that he created with God because of his sin. He also knew that God loves us too much to allow us to continue in our sin. Therefore, oftentimes our sin brings His discipline.
In Hebrews 12 we read, "It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Heb. 12:7-11).
Martin Luther said that God wields two rods. One is the rod of Fatherly kindness-the rod of love and mercy to correct His children. The other is the club of anger flowing from justice and wrath toward His enemies. We know for the Christian, Christ took the rod of anger on our behalf. Justice was accomplished we He took our sin upon Himself. God's wrath was fully exhausted upon Him. We have been forgiven and adopted into God's family. Yet in that family we do receive the rod of correction from a Father that seeks to correct us when we sin. It is because He knows better than us the consequences of sin. It is because He loves us! Discipline is always a sign of love.
And I love David's honesty and candor with God. I am sure He knew that God would never forsake Him, but the rod of God's discipline and His removal of fellowship from our lives, often feels very close to God's anger and wrath. David experienced that and David respected that.
I would translate it like this in my own words: "Oh Lord, don't give me what I deserve, but give me what I need. Don't remove the discipline, but discipline me in kindness and grace. Let not the rod be a sword, but let it be the stern hand of a loving Father that wants to turn me from my rebellious ways and make me more like yourself. I bring none of my goodness to you, but plead on behalf of my littleness. I want the blessing of Your rebuke, but I fear the billows of Your anger. I trust you as my Father. Please correct me, change me and restore our relationship."
In verse 2 David adds, "Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away; Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed."
I know everyone in this room has experienced heartbreak - rejection, embarrassment, disappointment, failure, poor decisions, death, the list continues. And I'm sure each of you can identify with the emotional pain oftentimes so intense that just takes your wind away, shuts you down, even makes your physical body hurt from stomach discomfort to headaches to joint dysfunction. This is what David described in verse 2. But take note, his pain was directly related to the way his sin affected His relationship with His Lord. We've all felt the pain of the consequences our sin brings. But how often have we felt this way because we have sinned against our Savior?
Spurgeon said, "It matters not that the bones shake if the soul be firm, but when the soul itself is also sore…this is agony indeed (Treasury, Psm. 6:2-3).
I think of Peter after He denied the Lord. The Bible says, "He went out and wept bitterly" (Lk. 22:62). Psalm 38:18, "For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin." Jeremiah 31:18, "I have surely heard Ephraim grieving, 'You have chastised me, and I was chastised, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for You are the LORD my God.'" In the Beatitudes our Lord said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Mt. 5:4). In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul spoke of a "godly sorrow." In the depths of your relationship with God have you ever experienced this? When we sin against God we should experience our most intense grief. In verse 3, David speaks of His soul being "greatly dismayed."
Also in verse 3, David cries out, "How long?" This is a cry from the godly seen throughout the pages of Scripture. It's not a cry of criticism or impatience or bitterness. It's a cry of anticipation. It's a cry for God to manifest His presence in the aid a weary sinner that presently clings to God as his or her only source of hope. It's knowing things are not all right with God and not in a way that either human or God would desire it. But it's knowing that only God can bring restoration and the cry is that He delay no longer.
Verse 4, "Return O Lord, rescue my soul."
You know, as I read this verse, I thought of a funny situation that my brother-in-law and I witnessed last week when we were hiking on a small island in the northern part of Lake Michigan. There is a lighthouse on the Island. Throughout the day the Ranger takes small groups of people up the spiral staircase to the circular observation deck on the top.
Seven of us went up, but unknown to the Ranger only six of us went down. Some guy was around the back side of the balcony messing with his camera. He ignored the Ranger's directions because he took his eyes off the Ranger. By the time we made it to the bottom, he realized the door to enter the body of the lighthouse was locked. And there he was, calling from ten stories up for someone to find the Ranger so that he might be set free.
This is what happens too often in our walk with the Lord. We take our eyes off Christ and then feel locked out of that vibrant relationship we once enjoyed with Him. The man did eventually get down from the lighthouse, but there was no guarantee. What if the Ranger couldn't be found? What if he lost or lent out his keys? What if he left the island? What if he cared not to help the individually immediately or even help him at all? With other people there are no absolute guarantees.
Yet with the Lord there is. With the Lord we have His promise that He will always forgive, always seek us out as a good shepherd, always do what is best for us, always draw us back to Himself and always renew the relationship. Though we may feel locked out at times, we can have the confidence that we never will be locked out eternally.
Someone rightly said, "When God seems absent from us, He is often doing His most important work in us."
Dale Ralph Davis said, "Sometimes the clearest evidence that God has not deserted you is not that you are successfully past your trial but that you are still on your feet in the middle of it" (1 Samuel, p. 200).
That's why David prayed in verse 4, "Save me because of Your lovingkindness." God has promised an unending, undiluted and unconditional covenant love to His children. He will always be our God and we will always be His people. God will not go back on His word. David understood this and pleaded for the display of God's lovingkindness. It is not, "Save me because of my goodness," but "Save me because of Your goodness."
Again David is never in this Psalm excusing his actions or trying to justify his sins. He is acknowledging His wrongdoing and knows full well that is wrong-doing is ultimately against God. His plea is not consideration of his faithfulness, but rather mercy based on God's faithfulness. He wants God to glorify Himself. He wants to be restored so that He too can glorify God as he says in verse 5.
Yet again, David pours out his heart to God. Look at the vivid ways he expresses the pain of his soul in verses 6-7. "I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief; it has become old because of all my adversaries." One commentator put it well. He said David is "drowning in grief" (VanGemeren, Expositor's Bible Commentary, p. 99).
So as David brings it up again, I do as well. When have you most recently felt the crushing pain of a burdened heart, darkened soul or guilty conscience solely because of your sin against God? Does sin hurt you as much as it hurts God? Does it make you sick, grieved or disappointed? Does it weigh on you prompting repentance and calling to God for restoration? Do you ever feel that your sin has divided you from a rich relationship with God and the feeling is one of emptiness, despair and regret?
Again last week I was with my brother-in-law and we were eating dinner at a local restaurant in Michigan. Scattered all over the establishment were banners representing various colleges. They were on all the walls and covering the ceiling. Knowing I lived in Illinois for several years, he pointed out one named "Illinois Wesleyan." That college happened to be in the same town as Illinois State, the college I attended.
I told him of the time when in college that I somehow obtained a football that belonged to their team. When I got saved a few years later, I felt led to make as many amends as possible. My heart felt like David's, sickened with items I had that really didn't belong to me.
So one day I drove to my college town and brought with me that football, about 100 golf range balls (a story for a different day) and a sweatshirt that belonged to the ISU football program. I personally returned all three items with an apology. I can't tell you how relieved my heart was when that burden was lifted and my conscience was cleaned. Remember, guilt and pain because of our sin is good because it drives us to God for repentance and restoration. Then we can experience the joy of His forgiveness and grace.
In a sense, David begins to experience this either in reality or simply anticipates an answer to His prayer resulting in God's promised restoration. Look how his tone immediately changes in verses 8-10. "Depart from me, all you who do iniquity, for the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping. The LORD has heard my supplication, the LORD receives my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed; they shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed."
God's grace has penetrated the depths of his soul. His joy in the Lord anchors and revives his faith. He knows with God that His soul will once again prosper.
As all genuine believers experience David's situation in Psalm 6, may we not only identify with David's pain, but also identify with David's victory as we look not ultimately to David, but to Jesus Christ because through faith in Him we find all the promises of God regarding forgiveness, healing and inseparability to be "yes" and "amen" (2 Cor. 1:17-20).