(If you are stumbling across this for the first time, you may want to start at the beginning of the series and work your way through the links at the end of each post. Or check out the index for this entire series of posts. We’ve learned so much about the psalmists and their relationship with God. I hope today’s is no exception.)
I just finished reading N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (yes, that is an affiliate link; help a guy out and buy a copy). I really liked his explanation of the three world views for those who believe in God. There was Option One: pantheism. That view says God is everywhere because God is everything. The computer on which you are reading this is as divine the dog your are petting by your side or the baby screaming upstairs in its crib or the plastic flowers decorating your dining table. God is the sum total of all things. Then there was Option Two: deism. That view says God is in some distant realm. He created the world and is now hands off.
With the first approach, prayer is nothing more than an exercise of reaching inside and meeting the divine within you. That is not prayer, that is just introspection. With the second, prayer is nothing more than…well, nothing. It is really pointless. For the deist prayer is sending some message out into the void to one who simply doesn’t listen. If he does, he doesn’t respond.
But there was also Option Three: it says God is not everything, but He is near. It says heaven and earth connect in real ways. It says we can walk with God and talk with God. He listens and responds. His response doesn’t have to be in some space crossing, super miraculous interjection of God’s power in the world. Rather, He can work through the world because He is in the world.
Option Three is the option the psalmists accept.
God is Near
I know this may seem odd because the Psalmists often spoke of how far away God was. “Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). Or “How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). Reading these statements, we may be tempted to think they took Option Two. However, that is not true. These statements showed how they felt because of their struggles. It doesn’t show what they really believed about God.
In fact, despite these feelings the Psalmists almost always come around in the very same psalms to show what they really believed. Psalm 10:14 says, “But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 13:5-6 says, “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.”
No doubt, at times it feels like God is far away, like He is hidden behind the clouds or off in the distant reaches of space ignoring us. The psalmists felt that way. But instead of turning their back on God, they went to God about it. Why? Because despite how they felt, they knew God was near. When they felt that way, they didn’t resign themselves to believe it was that way. They knew that was wrong and went God about it.
In fact, there were other times when the psalmists just flat told us God is near.
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”–Psalm 34:18.
“But you are near, O LORD, and all your commandments are true.”–Psalm 119:151.
“The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”–Psalm 145:18.
We can call on God. He is near. He listens. He responds. No doubt, there are times we won’t feel that way. In those times we can cry out to God because He is near.
(Come back next week to learn that God is love.)