Our Greatest Help in Hardship
“O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them. But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Turn to me and be gracious to me…”
– Psalm 86:14-15
We Need Mountains
The fearful situation descends. The thing that we had dreaded comes upon us – the loss, the death, the sickness, the disappointing response – and with it comes a flood of emotions that threaten to drown our faith….how do we respond? How do we defend ourselves against the onslaught of potentially faith-trampling experiences in store for us as we walk through this life?
In those desperate moments, general emotional truths about God simply will not hold up under the weight of our painful experience. If all I can cling to when I get the negative prognosis or the dreaded phone call is a general idea that “God is in control,” (most likely something that’s filtered down into my brain through various sermons, worship songs, and Christian slogans) I will quickly find this emotionally anchored generality disintegrating like a house of cards in a wind tunnel. No when the shattering blow comes (or even when the daily pricks and stings come), we need something more than general truths about God that we’ve picked up here and there…we need mountains of assurance with roots sunk to the heart of reality, we need immovable fortresses of security, we need words from the heart of God.
This is what we see in the two verses quoted above. David is facing real danger, his situation is bleak, and he pours his heart out to God, making his concerns clear. However, after laying out the frightening situation, he declares to Himself and to God a truth that came from the mouth of the Creator Himself:
“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
That is a direct quotation from God’s self-revelation to Moses on Mt. Sinai, recorded in Exodus 34:6. Here David quotes it to himself in order to shore up the defenses of his own soul against the attack of life’s trials. And then, notice how he follows up this quotation of God’s character:
“Turn to me and be gracious to me…”
Knowing who God is because of God’s own self-revelation, David clings to that truth and – on the basis of that truth – asks God to act. Because He is merciful and gracious, David is justified – and, even encouraged – to ask God to act mercifully and graciously toward him.
Here (and in many other places), the Holy Spirit is teaching us how to survive life. He’s teaching us that when the hardships descend, the place to run is not (primarily) a favorite worship song or favorite author or favorite truism about the Lord, the place to run (primarily) is God’s own word about Himself. We must know Him in scripture, we must see Him in the Bible, the image of God that we hold in our hearts and minds must be one drawn from and shaped by the Word of God.
Worship songs are good, Christian sayings can be helpful, good Christian authors are an invaluable resource. However, if we lean on any of these as our sole (or primary) support during hardship, we will find it splintering under the weight. Just as a popsicle stick isn’t made to carry the weight of a pickup truck, so too general truths about God aren’t intended to bear up our souls under the weights of life. We need specifics, we need verses, we need declarations and promises and revelations from the heart of God Himself – and we find this only in the Bible.
And the fulfillment and crescendo of every revelation God has ever and will ever make about Himself comes in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Clearest Window Into God’s Heart
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”
– John 1:14
In Jesus Christ, the self-communication of YHWH from all of scripture takes on flesh and becomes one of us. The YHWH who is just and faithful to His gracious covenant as seen in the Law, YHWH who is thrice holy, an avenging judge and gracious redeemer as seen in the prophets, YHWH who is intimately near and involved in all of life as seen in the writings – YHWH, to whom every sentence of scripture bears witness, this YHWH we meet in the flesh in Jesus Christ. And this YHWH we see with greatest clarity as He pours Himself out in love for the sake of His people on the cross. Jesus is the climax of God’s self revelation, and the climax of Jesus’ self-revelation is His victorious death on Golgotha. All of scripture, indeed, all of reality, is summarized in the cross of Jesus Christ.
So let us look primarily to scripture for our assurances in the midst of hardship. And as we mine God’s word from beginning to end in search of the rich ore of His heart communicated to us for our joy, let us ever remember that it is this God who supremely explains Himself to us by dying in our place, under our punishment, for His glory and our eternal gladness in His presence. Ultimately it is the cross that makes sense of all things (in scripture and in life), so may every page of our Bible be stained with Calvary’s blood and may our hearts retreat to the biblical presentation of the gospel as their impenetrable refuge in the face every challenge.