Have you ever heard of that old Negro spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”? That title sometimes seems to define our experience, doesn’t it? We’ve all known those times when what we are going through seems so real, so personal, and so close, that surely no one else can know what it’s like to go through what we are going through.
In some ways, this is absolutely true. Our experiences are unique to us, and it does us no good to try to compare our hardships with others. Hardship is just plain hard, and we may as well acknowledge that.
But the Bible gives witness to plenty of folks who seem to wrestle with hardships as well. We talked about one of those people this weekend in the person of Job. Again, his situation was highly unique—most of us probably do not know what it’s like to lose literally everything all at once. But if we take a step back, his expression of confusion, sadness, anger, and grief at losing so much might seem pretty familiar to some us, don’t they? Sometimes, we just cannot wrap our minds around the reasons behind what we go through.
Now, Job isn’t the only book of the Bible where the emotions of suffering are expressed; and spirituals are not the only songs that give words to what it’s like to be stuck in hard times. The Old Testament of Psalms also records some incredibly haunting, beautiful, difficult, and profound songs that David and others penned in their seasons of trial. Sometimes, we might get caught thinking of this book only as a bunch of lines that are nice to use during our church’s worship experiences. Granted, many, many churches have rightfully used the Psalms for this very purpose throughout history. But many Christ-followers have also turned to the Psalms to give words to their own experiences, because this poetry seems to cover the whole range of human emotions, from intense joy to intense grief.
For example, check out these lines from various psalms:
”Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)
“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? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer; by night, and am not silent.” (Psalm 22:1-2)
[While the Jews were in exile in Babylon] “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1)
These aren’t exactly the most optimistic words in the Bible, are they? But they are honest. And they do reflect the struggles that these writers were going through.
Yet for all these men went through, many of them also arrive at a similar conclusion in the midst of their suffering. Read this short psalm and see if you can’t spot what I’m getting at:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13, emphasis added)
Did you catch it? There’s that word that Ben mentioned this weekend: trust. Patience through suffering and endurance through trials require trust in God. And this can be a hard thing sometimes. The psalmists were not oblivious to this point. But they were still able to see the goodness of God and put their trust in Him despite their circumstances.
Can I be honest with you for a moment? I know it can be hard sometimes to see God’s goodness in our present circumstances. It can be hard to settle in and trust in God. But, as Ben said in the message, that’s exactly what our patience through difficult times requires.
So for some of us, a really good action step in response to Ben’s message might be to read through some of the Psalms. We’ll find in them a lot of truth about who God really is—and that can really help to re-orient our perspective to put our trust in Him. It can also give us some words to be able to pray to Him in the midst of our present circumstances, even at those moments when our words seem empty.
The Psalms can push us toward putting our trust in the Lord, believing in his goodness, and continuing to pray for Him to give us the patience we need to endure our present struggles. And someday, Lord willing, we might be able to join David in saying:
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1)