How long [O LORD?] will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes,
lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalm 13 ESV)
It takes more than a minute to sort out Psalm 13. So many of the Psalms are easier to understand if you lay them out on the page differently than our translators have done. I first learned this trick from the wonderful artistry of Timothy Botts, whose Holy Bible, with 360 full-color calligraphic illustrations (Tyndale House, 2000), may be the greatest work of illumination done since the middle ages. When you are perplexed by a text, try changing where the lines end. Mess with indentation, and you’ll reveal a wealth of thought.
Here, the Psalmist asks the same question four times. “How long?” When you feel forgotten, abandoned, friendless, or opposed, the question you most want an answer to is this one. How long do I have to feel this way? Realize that it isn’t necessarily true that these things have come upon the Psalmist. He just feels this way. He’s reached the end of his rope, like Capra’s George Bailey, who stands in the cold and snow alone on a bridge contemplating suicide because, in the moment, he believes he is forgotten, abandoned, friendless, and opposed.
At that moment, George Bailey does the right thing. Sitting at a bar, having had way too much to drink, he says, “God . . . God . . . Dear Father in Heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if you're up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I'm at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God.” The church has long had a problem with the bars and bartenders of the world. But honestly, most of us will find greater human compassion sitting alone at a bar than we will sitting in the midst of the congregation. I’m not saying it should be that way, and I’m not trying to be cynical, it is just that the bartender isn’t trying to make us act holy. He has no agenda. God is able to use those places, those people, and those moments.
The Psalmist also does the right thing. At the same time he is feeling forgotten, abandoned, friendless, and opposed, he is unwilling to settle for the expected outcome. He doesn’t want to die. He just doesn’t want to feel this way any longer. He doesn’t want to feel like a failure. He just does. And he doesn’t want to feel that way any more. For whatever reason, life has shaken him to the core.
The Psalmist has an ace-in-the-hole that George Bailey doesn’t have. The Psalmist doesn’t need an angelic visitation. He simply needs to remember the facts. “I have trusted in your steadfast love,” he says. That one fact mitigates everything else he’s feeling. So what if I am forgotten, abandoned, friendless, and opposed? I have trusted in your love. Even if these feelings are true, I still have that.
Far from jumping off a bridge, the Psalmist is now able to engage his will. “I shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord.”
Are you at the end of your rope? Do you feel like the only solution is to go to a bar somewhere and make the reality you’re living go away? God knows that’s how you’re feeling, and I can confidently say he won’t judge you for it. He wants to meet you where you are. He loves you. Trust in his steadfast love, even if you can’t trust in anything else. And if you find yourself able, wherever you are, choose to rejoice in him. Choose to sing to him. He loves it when his people sing to him.
We all know how It’s A Wonderful Life ends. The whole town shows up and rescues George from financial ruin. The sheriff tears up the warrant for his arrest. Even the bank examiner throws in a couple of bucks. And Clarence the Angel sends a final message of hope to George.
Life isn’t like that. But if you will choose to rejoice and sing, you will discover that, no matter what is happening in your life right now, God has dealt bountifully with you. Was it Mother Teresa who said, “We should never pray to change God's mind; we should pray to change our mind?”