Sometimes in our personal experience and in the world around us we are tempted with the feeling that God is absent. Why doesn’t God show Himself more? Are our prayers being heard? Why doesn’t God step in and arrest the moral rebellion that is destroying western societies? These concerns are not new in one sense. The Psalms and other books of Scripture wrestle with such thoughts. Yet it can seem different in a society where God is excluded to such a great extent.
Sometimes we treat the temptation and pressure to unbelief as an intellectual matter. So we seek more and more rational proofs of God’s existence. But the root cause of the temptation may lie deeper in the social realities of a secular age. The felt absence of God is something we grapple with in a particular way in such an age.
This is addressed in a recent book by Joseph Minich Enduring Divine Absence: The Challenge of Modern Atheism (The Davenant Institute, 2018). He seeks to explain how this situation has come about historically and philosophically and then how we can sustain and strengthen our faith in the face of the challenge. A sense of God’s absence helps us to place greater value on God’s presence. Trusting God is not avoiding the problems and challenges we face but fully confronting them holding on to the God that is greater than them all. Minich says the following:
Can it be that we are brave enough to say that in spite of evil…God is here and that He is good? Not as wishful thinking, not as calling evil “good,” but as receiving reality just as it is and as it must be-despite what the world often feels like? Perhaps, indeed atheism is not bravery after all, but capitulation. Perhaps it is an intellectual, spiritual, and psychological failure to endure. It is a failure to say that God, that the Good, is greater and denser and more fundamental and deeper and wider, that love is higher, that all is grounded in the infinite plenitude of a pure actuality which is love Himself-who is God “for us”…God is ultimate and His goodness and eternal being are still greater realities and contain a greater gravity than death and pain
Minich confronts the personal challenge of this:
what does it mean when we find ourselves begging to see God and He does not show up? When He effectively and providentially says “no”. It means, “My grace is sufficient for you. I’ve already shown up. I’ve already raised from the dead. I’ve already forgiven your sins. And just as I’ve done all this for your good, so for your good I want you to grow up. I want you to be strong. Trust me. I’ll carry you. I will allow you to suffer. But I will carry you through. I will allow you to hit the bottom, but there you will find the eternal living and true God-and you will say with joy, ‘This is enough'”. Like Job, you will be reoriented in the gravity of God.
In Psalm 10 there is a lament that God seems to stand afar off. He seems to be hidden in times of trouble and the wicked just seem to be able to do what they want. David Dickson helpfully draws out some further thoughts and implications from the Psalmist’s words. He notes that in the Psalmist’s complaint he is speaking to God according to his feelings and as he sees things in human terms and in an outward way.
1. God’s Word and Providence Can Seem to be Saying Different Things
God’s work in providence may seem to speak in a contrary way to the word of promise. God’s Word says that He will always be with His own and not forsake them. But here the way He deals with them seems to say that He stands afar off and hides himself in times of trouble (Psalm 10:1). Our feelings may sometimes speak contrary to faith.
2. We Should Depend on God’s Word More than Our Feelings
The truth of the word should be relied on rather than accepting what our feelings are saying. When our feelings seem to object to or question the Word we must bring this before the Lord in prayer. We may discuss it with Him there. This is what the Psalmist does in asking God why He stands afar off (Psalm 10:1).
3. A Humbled Soul Can Speak with God in a Familiar Way
See how a humbled soul may speak with God in a familiar way. The Lord will not mistake what His people are meaning when faith borrows the language of feeling. The Lord will permit such speech and not take it in the wrong way since He knows it proceeds from faith and love wrestling with our feelings. He will even allow such language to be recorded in His Book (as here) for others to make prudent use of it. He records it even though they appear to challenge Him for standing aloof and hiding Himself.
4. God’s People are Often in a Low Position in this World
It is often the case that the godly are in a low condition in the world while their adversaries are in high places and power. Thus, “the wicked in his pride” is able to “persecute the poor” and oppress them as their underlings (Psalm 10:2).
5. Persecution will Become a Snare to the Persecutors
We may expect that what persecutors devise against God’s people will become a snare for themselves. The Psalmist speaks of this in Psalm 10:2.
6. When the Wicked Seem to Prosper by Casting God Away
Psalm 10:3-11 describes what life is like when the wicked obtain power. They seem to prosper by casting God away. It describes the tendency downward trend of a godless society.
The wicked man has such a high opinion of his own ability it is clear that he scorns the idea of praying to God for anything. In his pride he will not seek God. He does not consider what may please or displease God, what may honour, or dishonour God. He does not trouble himself with such thoughts. “God is not in all his thoughts”. In Hebrew this means that all his thoughts are that there is no God, or none of his thoughts are on God. His ways always vex others, tending especially to hurt the godly.
He does not fear God’s judgements, believing they will never happen. He fears neither God nor man. Prosperity with apparent impunity from God’s judgements persuade him that God will never take notice of him, call him to account, or punish him. He has said in his heart that God has forgotten, hides His face and will never see it.
7. Atheism in Others Should Draw Us Closer to God
The more we see atheism in the wicked, the more we should draw near to. The godly may well feel that God is at a distance when He is not executing justice. Yet when they are tempted with these very temptations to which the wicked have embraced (that God is afar off and will not judge) they must not yield to them. Rather they must pray against the temptation, as the Psalmist does here: “Arise, O Lord” (Psalm 10:12).
8. God will Not Forget His People
The merciful respect and love which the Lord has to His afflicted people will not allow His justice against these persecutors to be quiet for long. He will not forget the humble (Psalm 10:12). He will vindicate His own glory from the way in which the wicked despise His name and expose it to contempt (Psalm 10:13).
9. God’s People are Comforted by Providence though the Godless Deny it
The godless enemies of God’s people deny God’s providence and justice. Yet His people are comforted during their saddest sufferings by the Lord seeing and taking account of them. The godly can say here that God has seen it (Psalm 10:14).
10. God’s Judgements Will Refute the Atheism of the Wicked
God’s judgments on the wicked shall really refute the atheism of the wicked and repay their opposition made to the godly (Psalm 10:14). The power of persecutors cannot be so great that God cannot weaken and break it, so that they will not be able to trouble His people (Psalm 10:15-16).
Though the Lord does not reckon with His enemies for their sins at first, yet He reckons for all at last. For lesser and for greater, for one and for all: the uttermost farthing will be exacted. He seeks out their sins till He finds none (Psalm 10:15). O how fearful a reckoning the Lord must make with the impenitent, who die unpardoned and unreconciled with God through the Mediator Christ Jesus!
11. We Should Cast Such Burdens on the Lord
When a believer has poured out their heart before God they should cast themselves with their burden on the Lord. When a humble believer has cast their burden on the Lord, the Lord will not fail in taking care of what He is entrusted with. The poor commit themselves to God (Psalm 10:14).
12. Christ’s Kingdom is Everlasting
The prayer of the persecuted will not be rejected because the kingdom of Christ in His Church is perpetual. Earthly rulers cannot keep on living to help their friends, followers or flatterers. Nor can they keep living to persecute and molest God’s Church. Christ is the Lord and King for ever and ever, to defend His people and punish His enemies (Psalm 10:16).
13. These Experiences Humble Us for Our Good
The Lord’s way is to humble His children through troubles and make them conscious of their need of His help. Their sense of need turns into desire for His help. Their desire turns into prayer. He will then in due time answer, so that the Psalmist can say that God has “heard the desire of the humble” (Psalm 10:17).
14. God’s People Have Everlasting Blessings
Even there were no other comfort to the godly when they feel oppressed the expectation of heaven would be sufficient. Their life, inheritance and happinesse is in heaven. Their oppressors are merely men of this earth whose portion is no better than what they have here in this world (Psalm 10:18).