Don’t Look For God In All The Wrong Places!
Frederick Buechner says that, “Like it or not, rock music is the music by which our age will be remembered if there is anyone left to remember. Its endlessly repetitious, super amplified, agonized howl erupting from an age for whom this world, for all its beauty, can never feel quite at home because, at any moment, the whole thing may blow up in our faces like a trick cigar.” So right, Frederick Buechner. And I suspect he’s right.
But once there was a company of people whose hit tunes were anthems and whose music was meant for God. They did not sing of Billie Jean or Purple Rain. They sang of Zion. There was a time when prayer was the music people loved to hear and psalms were the songs they loved to sing and their harp still shames our guitar. We have never been able to do better and so we go back to them now.
Psalm 10: “Why are You so far away, Lord? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble? The wicked are proud and persecute the poor. May they be caught in the traps they have made. The wicked man brags about his evil desires. The greedy man curses and rejects his Lord. In his pride, the wicked man says, ‘God will not punish me. He doesn’t care.’ This is what the wicked man thinks. He succeeds in all that he does. He cannot understand God’s judgments. He sneers at his enemies. He says to himself, ‘I will never fail. I will never be in trouble.’ His speech is filled with curses, lies, and threats. He is quick to speak hateful and evil words. He hides himself in the villages. He waits there and murders innocent people. He spies on his helpless victim. He waits in his hiding place like a lion. He lies in wait for his victim. He catches him in his trap and drags him away. The helpless victim lies crushed, brute strength has defeated him. The wicked man says to himself, ‘God does not care. He has closed his eyes and will never see me.’ Come, Lord, and save me. Don’t forget the oppressed, God. How can the wicked man despise God and say to himself, ‘He will not punish me’? For You do see, oh Lord. You take notice of suffering and grief and are always ready to help. The helpless man commits himself to You because You have always helped the needy. Break the power of wicked and evil men. Punish them for their wickedness until their punishment is complete, for the Lord is king forever and ever and the heathen will disappear from His land. You listen, Lord to the prayers of the lowly. You will give them courage. You will hear the cries of the oppressed and the orphans and You will judge in their favor so that mortal men may cause terror no more.” Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our rock and our redeemer, Amen.
Sometimes this world seems to be such an undisciplined madhouse and our lives seem to be so completely at the mercy of blind fate that we are tempted to echo the complaint of H.G. Wells who once took and twisted the words of a psalm to read, “God is an ever-absent help in time of trouble.” The complaint is not new. It’s as old as the pages of the Bible. For the psalmist was simply echoing the cries that arose throughout his day. “Why are You so far away, Lord? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?”
So it was for Noah as he floated about in his giant ark with nothing around him except empty seas and nothing above him except skies overflowing with rain. So it was for the Israelites enslaved for four centuries in Egypt with the unanswering silence of Heaven being rubbed like salt into the open wounds of their suffering. So it is for us. In times of trouble, we cry out, “Why are You so far away, Lord? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” But on the basis of what this psalmist writes, I want to suggest to you that there is help to be found in the power of God. Let me be specific at this point. If we can’t find God in our experience, then perhaps it’s because we are looking in all the wrong places.
There’s a man named Grant Teaff. I don’t know that you know him or have ever heard of him, but he happens to be the head football coach at Baylor University. Now, Grant Teaff is a profoundly Christian man, deeply devoted, but he has a rather unusual sense of humor. He does some crazy things. I could tell you about several of them, but I will tell you about one, and it was crazy.
It seems that on one occasion, one of Grant Teaff’s assistant coaches came up to him and said, “Coach, why don’t we go hunting together?” And so Teaff, at that point, remembering that he had a former player who had issued him a standing invitation to come to his ranch and hunt any time that he desired. And so Teaff and the assistant coach got in the car and they drove to the ranch. And when they arrived there, the assistant stayed in the car and Teaff went on into the house to ask permission of the former player to hunt on his ranch. And the former player said, “Certainly, Coach. I’ve told you before, you can hunt here any time you like, but there is something I really have to ask you to do today. I need a big favor. Did you see that mule down by the gate across the pasture? He’s an old mule, and the vet told me this morning that he’s going to have to be destroyed. He’s in great pain and he’s going to die, and I have to put him out of his misery. And Coach, I just can’t do it. That mule’s been a part of this family since I was a little boy, and I cannot shoot him. Would you do it for me?”
Well, Teaff was shocked, and he said, “I’ve never done anything like that in my life.” And the player said, “Yeah. I know, Coach, but listen, you’re the best friend that I ever had, and I need you now. Will you please do this for me?” And so Coach Teaff reluctantly agreed to do what he’d been asked to do. And on his way back to the car with this unusual sense of humor of his, Grant Teaff decided that he would somehow make a joke out of this whole thing, and so he put an angry expression on his face and he walked up to the car and he leaned in the window and said to the assistant coach, “Can you imagine that ungrateful upstart? I helped to make him what he is today and we come down here to hunt on his ranch today and he said we can’t do it. I’ll show him. I’m going to shoot his mule.” And so he reached into the back of the car and he picked up his gun, and the assistant coach said, “Wait, wait, Coach. You wouldn’t do anything like that.” And Grant Teaff said, “Yes. I will.” And he took the gun and he headed out across the pasture and he deliberately took aim and he pulled the trigger, “Bam.” A single shot.
And just at that moment, he heard behind him two more shots, “Bam, bam.” He turned around in a panic and he saw the assistant coach standing by the car with his gun in his hand. He went running up to him and he said, “What are you doing?” And he said, “Coach, I just got two of his cows. Now let’s get out of here.”
Gee, what’s the point of that madness? Oh, it’s in there somewhere. I know it is. Maybe this is it. What started out as a joke suddenly became a jolt, and that’s what happens in life, isn’t it? So many times what seems to be a joke instead turns out to be a jolt. So many times, the good times, in a flash, become bad. So many times, our great laughter is, in a moment, transformed into tears. That’s the way life is, isn’t it? And that’s what makes it so hard for us to find God in the midst of our experience. Oh, it’s easy to see God when things are going, well when we’re feeling good and we’re mentally sharp and we’re surrounded with friends, and love, and laughter. It’s so easy to say, “God is so near.”
But then when laughter suddenly changes to tears, it’s not so easy. No. Then we want to say, “Why are You so far away, Lord?” But that’s what the psalmist wants us to understand, that we are to see life as a whole, that we are to look for God in beauty, and success, and happiness. Yes. But we are also to look for God in sorrow, and failure, and unhappiness.
We have to look for God not only in the sunshine, but also in the storm. Not only in the blooming flower, but also in the destructive earthquake. Not only in victory, but also in defeat. It’s a matter of changing your perspective. You see, it’s a matter of seeing life as a whole and seeing it from God’s perspective. That’s what’s important, looking for God in the right places, looking for Him in all of life, not just the good times, but also the bad.
I’ve always loved the story of the Norwegian fisherman and his son who went out one day to fish in a small boat out in the sea. And while they were there, suddenly, a great fog bank swept in and enshrouded them. They were completely disoriented. They couldn’t determine their direction. They had no idea where the shore was. They were struggling about trying to figure out what they would do. They were in danger of being lost at sea, and they knew it. Now, it happened just at that time in their house back on the land, this fisherman’s wife was working in the kitchen and there was a grease fire on the stove, and she tried to do something about it and couldn’t, and some of the cabinets nearby caught fire. She tried to control the blaze, had no success whatever, and within a matter of a few minutes, the whole house was engulfed in flames. It burned to the ground. And just as the last timbers tumbled into the ashes, just then, the fisherman and his son landed on the shore.
The fisherman’s wife went running down to him with tears streaming down her face. “We’ve lost everything,” she cried. And neither of the one made any response whatever. “Do you not hear what I’m saying to you?” she said. “Everything we had is charred ash.” And the fisherman looked at her and he said, “Just two hours ago, we were lost at sea, and as we struggled, knowing that our lives were in danger, suddenly we saw in the distance, through the fog, a golden glow and we began to row toward that glow. The flames that burned our house to the ground, God used to save our lives.” That’s the point I’m trying to make, that we can see God even in the midst of life’s catastrophes if we will try to view those catastrophes from the perspective of God. So don’t look for God only in the good times in life. No. Look for Him in life’s hard times as well, for there, my friends, you shall surely find Him.
But then this; if we can’t find God in our experience, then perhaps it’s because we’re listening to all the wrong voices
Did you ever hear the story about the preacher who went calling one afternoon? And he knocked on the door and a voice inside said, “Come in.” And he tried the door handle, and it was locked securely. So he knocked again, and the voice inside said, “Come in.” Tried again, door still locked. He began to feel that perhaps whoever was inside was unable to get to the door, and so he went around to the back of the house, around to the back door. Knocked again. The voice inside said, “Come in.” He tried the door again. This time, it was open. He stepped into the house and he found himself in the kitchen of the home, and he also found himself confronted by a great snarling German Shepherd dog. He was panicked. And he looked around quickly and he saw that there was no one else there, no one except a parrot on a perch, and the parrot was saying, “Come in, come in.” Well, he was panicked and he was frustrated and the dog was snarling. And in his anger, he turned and he said, “You dumb bird. Is that all you can say?” And the parrot looked at him and said, “Sic him, sic him.”
Now, that preacher was in trouble because he was listening to the wrong voice. And we do the same thing! There are voices all around us and they are so many times the wrong voices. Do you remember what Paul said? “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And all around us, there are voices who say, “Things not seen? You can’t build your life on that. Christianity is nothing more than wishful thinking, nothing more than a pie in the sky kind of fantasy. No. You must build your life on something you can be sure of. Build your life, for example, on the certainty of the reason and the logic of science. Yes. That, we can be sure of.” That’s what the voices say, and yet, I would remind you that in every instance, man-made religion leaves us ultimately destitute. If you doubt that, then please listen to the words of George Bernard Shaw who after a very long life of unbelief wrote these words. “The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels ought to have been able to bring in the Millennium. Instead, they have led directly to the suicide of the nations. I used to believe in science, but now, look at me and witness the sad spectacle of an atheist who has lost his faith in science.”
There are voices all around us, and so many times, they’re the wrong voices. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But those voices that are so wrong are not only outside the faith. There are many of those voices inside the faith too, and we have to acknowledge that. A friend of mine had cancer, and as if that were not enough to test her faith, she then met a man who dared to call himself a minister of Jesus Christ. And he said to her, “If you had genuine faith in Jesus Christ, then your cancer would be cured. The fact that your cancer continues to spread means that you do not really know Jesus.” That is blasphemy. That is a profanation of the name of Jesus Christ. For the spread of her cancer had nothing whatever to do with the state of her faith. But thank God her faith was stronger. Her faith, a conviction in things not seen, not completely understood, that conviction took hold of her and she began to see how God was working even in the midst of her cancer and how God ultimately would bring His glory from it. That’s faith. That’s the kind of faith the psalmist holds up before us. Not just a whistling in the dark. No. But a sitting down and remembering that just as God has watched over us in the past, so God will see us through the problems that are troubling us now.
Never saying with the voices around us, “Lord, why are You so far away? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” But rather saying with the psalmist, “The Lord is king, king forever, and He holds our lives and this world in the loving control of His hands.”
But then this: If we can’t find God in our experience, perhaps it’s because we’re living in all the wrong ways.
There are two great figures in the Old Testament whose experiences make the point. They’re contrasting experiences. The first is David. David at the height of his power, when he was master of all he surveyed made the mistake of desiring another man’s wife. Her name was Bathsheba. He arranged to have Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband sent off to war. That didn’t help. And so finally, David resorted to murder. He had Uriah set up to be killed, and once the dreadful deed was done, then he had Bathsheba for his own. And he thought he had won a great victory, but four things happened. First, Nathan the prophet told the whole royal court what had happened, and it brought deep shame to the king. And then secondly, the son Bathsheba bore to David died. And then thirdly, a strain of moral madness inflected the family of David and crippled that family for generations to come. And then fourthly, David’s greatest dream in life, the dream of building the temple of the Lord, was frustrated. God said to him, “You shall not build it, for there is blood upon your hands.” For David, what seemed to be a victory was transformed into defeat.
The second man is Joseph. You remember how his brothers beat him and sold him into slavery, and in Egypt, Joseph worked very hard, so hard, in fact, that he became an executive and the employee of a man called Potiphar? And you remember how Potiphar’s wife made advances to Joseph and Joseph rebuffed those advances? And because of that, Potiphar’s wife framed him. He was thrown into jail, a terrible defeat added on to another defeat. He was a slave. That was bad enough. Now he was a slave behind bars. And yet, there in that prison, Joseph developed a reputation as being an interpreter of dreams, and that reputation spread all the way to Pharaoh’s palace. Pharaoh then had a troubling dream himself, and he called for Joseph, and Joseph interpreted the dream, and then Pharaoh made Joseph second in command of the whole land. And then there came a great famine, and the family of Joseph came to Egypt looking for food, and there Joseph showed them great grace. He revealed his true identity to them and then he gave them the food that they needed. And do you remember what Joseph said? “What you meant for evil, God meant for Good.” What had been a defeat for Joseph was transformed into victory.
Now, I submit to you that the difference in those two men was the purity of their living. You remember what Jesus said? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Jesus never promised that God would always be accessible to the quick-witted or the clear-headed. No. But Jesus did say that God would never be hidden from those who are morally pure.
It must have been hard to see the King of Creation in a squalling little baby in a stable in Bethlehem, but there were some shepherds there who were pure in heart and they fell in adoration before Him. It must have been hard to see the King of Glory in a Galilean carpenter, but there were some peasants and some fisherman and some children who were pure in heart and they saw in Him the King of All Creation and worshiped at His knees. It must have been hard to see the Lord of Glory and one dying on a cross, but there were on Calvary that day those who were pure in heart enough to see that He was about to inherit His kingdom. The message, I think, is clear. That spiritual vision, that ability to see God, had nothing whatever to do with the way those people thought, but it had everything to do with the way they lived. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Well, this is what I want you to take to heart today. No matter what happens to you in your life, no matter what happens to me, we need never cry out, “Lord, why are You so far away? Why do You hide Yourself in time of trouble?” No, no. Rather, we can cry out, “Through the power of Jesus Christ, the Lord is king forever and ever.” God is here in Jesus Christ and Jesus loves you and Jesus loves me. This I know. Why? Because the Bible tells me so.
Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, lead us through the hard places in life, and yet, reveal Yourself to us even in the midst of them, that we may know that You are king forever and ever through Jesus Christ, Amen.