Questioning God

Questioning God

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been enjoying Bro. Luke’s Sunday School classes on “Prayer in the Psalms”. If you haven’t been able to attend, you can watch them on the ecclesia’s website. He has covered such topics as meditation, petition, thanksgiving, and praise and reflected on how we can incorporate these into our daily prayers. It got me thinking of another aspect of our prayers that Luke wasn’t able to cover and that is Psalms of lament. I called up Luke and we discussed it and he agreed it would be a nice compliment to the classes that he gave.

While most of the Psalms are of thanksgiving and praise there are also many which are Psalms of lament. Do we incorporate laments into our prayers? Do we lay out all our feelings and emotions before God? Do we ever question God in our prayers? It is this aspect of the lament Psalm that I wanted to talk about this morning. There are some of these Psalms of lament that go so low in their despair as to question God.

Isn’t it wrong to question God? It would be if the questions were derogatory or mocking. But these questions that the Psalmists express are sincere. That’s what we love about the Psalms. We see the struggling of the faithful expressing themselves to God. We see all their anxiety and stress and fears and tears and emotions laid bare for all to see. In this way I do not see anything wrong in questioning God. He wants us to express ourselves before him. He knows our inmost thoughts, but he still expects us to be open and honest with him.

So, I set out to find all the psalm where God is questioned, and I found sixteen of them. A lot of these questions begin with “how long…” Other times the question is “why…” There are questions about why the enemies of God prosper and continue. There are questions about why we suffer. There are questions about why God seems so far away as if he’s hidden his face. Sometimes the Psalmist is able to answer his own questions but sometimes they are left unresolved.

That’s the beauty of the Psalms. They express all the joys and sorrows of life. They make us realize that life is not all about feeling happy all the time. They teach us how to manage. They help us though life’s difficulties. They help us to see that there are others who share are feelings. They show us that questioning God is not wrong. In fact, they show us that when we ask, God will give the answer. And if the answer does not come quickly, they give us a hope to hang onto.

So, this morning let’s consider these Psalms that question God and learn from them.

How Long Shall Sin Abound?

The first type of questioning concerns the vexation caused by the enemies of God and how long it is going to last. Let’s consider the example given in Psalm 94:1-4,

“O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself. Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud. LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves?

We live in a world that is becoming more and more Godless. You can see it in the headlines. You can see it in our workplaces and schools. See what is being celebrated by the world. How does that make you feel? Does it bother you? Is it coming out in your prayers?

The Psalmist here is crying for God to judge the earth and for the kingdom to be established. So our prayers should be crying out to God, “how long”? In some cases, it would be physical persecution (Rev. 6:10) but here in this Psalm it was the very attitude of the wicked that was so disturbing. The enemies are those who say, “There is no God”.

Psalm 42 is another lovely lament Psalm which also questions God about his enemies.

“I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God? Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

The enemy is one who uses the sword of his mouth to discount God. How hurtful is that to you when somebody does that? Does it enter into our prayers? We see a lot of that in this world. We cannot become numb to it. If so, it might enter into our thinking. Our ecclesias are in danger if we do not remain sensitive to the wickedness that is in the world.

Consider also the questioning in Psalm 13:1-2 (NIV),

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts (“feel anxious” NASB, “take counsel with my soul” KJV)

    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me?

The enemy is not people. The enemy is sin manifest in the flesh. It is sin which is our enemy which unless God enlightens our eyes it will rejoice over us in death. This bothered the Psalmist so much he said he wrestled with it in his mind and day after day it brought him sorrow. Brothers and Sisters, we live in the last days. Our world is like Sodom and Gomorrah. The Apostle Peter said that while Lot dwelt in Sodom his righteous soul was vexed from day to day with their unlawful deeds (2 Pet. 2:7-9). I’m sure Lot prayed like this Psalmist and so should we.

We may question God on “how long”, but we know how longsuffering our God is. We see only a small fraction of the evil in this world. God sees it all. It’s a testament to his longsuffering that he endures so that those who he is calling might be saved. Thank God he is so long suffering.

Because while we might be impatient with the world around us we also are directed inward to consider our own sin and mortality. God is longsuffering toward us. This is another reason why the Psalmists questions God. For example, look at Psalm 6:1-5,

“O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long? Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies' sake. For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?”

The Psalmist seems to be so distressed about his own sin and mortal condition that in verse three his grammar breaks down and he just says, “how long?” You may read that and think the Psalmist has some sort of physical malady, and maybe he does. But at the heart of it I think the Psalmist is speaking of the need to be delivered from his own sinful nature. That is why there is the reminder that the grave cannot give him thanks. The Psalmist is really looking forward to the resurrection.

The same question comes up in Psalm 90:13. In the context you’ll see that it speaks about our iniquities (v. 8) being the reason for God’s anger. Then in verses 12-14 it says (ESV),

“Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning (“early” KJV) with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

There is that question again, “how long?” It comes after the realization that our sins are displeasing to God. There is the realization that death is the only outcome for our sins. That must be unsettling for us that while we are in these bodies of flesh and blood, we cannot fully please God. That is why we so desire the resurrection.  That our bodies might be changed, that this corruptible will put on incorruption and then we can serve God to the fullest. How long? When you read this Psalm with spiritual insight you can see he is in full expectation of the resurrection. “Early” in verse 14 means “the morning” which is a symbol of the resurrection when the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in his wings. The ability to rejoice and be glad “all our days” is everlasting life.

How Long Must We Suffer?

The Psalmist would sometimes recognize that the nation had sinned, and their troubles were because of it. This is what happens in Psalm 80 when the Psalmist questions in verse 4,

“O LORD God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?”

We shouldn’t misunderstand his question. God is not angry with prayers. The question is really “How long will he be angry while his people pray to him?” The answer can only be “not for long”. For them the “bread of tears” kept coming as a steady diet, but the Psalmist encourages us to keep praying and not to lose heart. We know of the things we have done wrong and the consequences of it but if we pray to God the promise is that he will “turn us again and cause his face to shine upon us and we shall be saved” (v. 7).

Sometimes though our suffering is not because of our sins and this creates a greater consternation. Why is this happening? Consider how Israel felt in Psalm 44 when the surrounding nations had invaded and ravaged them and the Psalmist says in verse 17-22,

“All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way; Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death. If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart. Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.”

While we may not have forsaken God’s ways there is that principle in verse 22 that for God’s sake, we may suffer tribulation and distress. Paul quotes this verse in Rom. 8:36 to prove that nothing shall separate from the love of God. We learn obedience by the things that we suffer. All though we have this wonderful exhortation it is nonetheless not easy. Even for the Psalmist because he turns to God and questions him in verses 23-24,

“Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever. Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?”

These are very bold words. I can’t imagine saying this to God yet here it is. God never sleeps. This is a metaphorically expression calling on God to act. God will not forsake us. He is always aware of our strife.

Yet sometimes we feel very distant from God. Some feel it more acutely than others. There’s that old adage that if you feel more distant from God, guess who moved? Our feelings are not the same as reality. It is good though to get them out. To express ourselves to God.

Psalm 77

This brings us to Psalm 77. Probably one of the most moving sequence of questions from a troubled heart. In verse 1 it says,

“I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me.”

Let us never lose sight that God always hears our prayers. Even when we feel like we are not getting answers. God hears. This is important for the Psalmist because look how he struggles through verses 2-4,

“In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah. Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.”

He can’t sleep. He can’t find any comfort for his soul, that is, there is a constant anxiety. He finds no answers in the Bible because he tries to remember God and it just troubles him, he moans. He turned to meditation (ESV, “complained” KJV) and it just overwhelms him. He is so troubled that he cannot even express himself. He finds it so difficult to talk to anybody about it. If the Psalmist were alive today, he would be diagnosed as clinically depressed. In the depths of his despair, he turns into thinking and focusing on himself.

“I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.” (Psa. 77:5-6)

Notice how focused he is here on himself and then come a flood of questions.

“Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.” (Psa. 77:7-9)

There is probably good reason for the Selah here. It was time to stop and reflect. Would you ever consider questioning God in such a way? To bring into question his very character? Yet the questions were needful for the questioner. The answer was obviously an emphatic NO.

It helps the Psalmist realize that this is not God’s problem. This is his problem. Verse 10,

“And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.”

This is a difficult verse to translate. That word “infirmity” means to be weak or sick, or to grieve but it also can mean to entreat. Some Bibles like the ESV and NIV say “to this will I appeal…” That may be but I tend to lean towards how the KJV translates it, “this is my infirmity”. How often do we find an answer to our problems when we recognize that we are not thinking correctly? There is a turning point here in the Psalm where he stops thinking about himself and starts thinking about God. He turns from being me-centered to God-centered. That’s not easy to do. Something we all struggle with to various degrees. We all have to come into the sanctuary of God (v. 13) to see what is true. In the sanctuary of God is the mercy seat sprinkled with the blood where the high priest would go once a year. This signifying the forgiveness of sins we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our high priest there. The one who was touched with the feelings of our infirmities.

Psalm 22

This brings us to consider our Lord Jesus. Did he ever question God?

“My God, my God, why hast though forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46)

The very words of Jesus on the cross. Now many commentators run rampant with these words speculating on how God forsook Jesus on the cross, but nothing could be further from the truth. For God had said multiple times “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Nothing could be truer for Jesus.

The more interesting question is “Did Jesus feel this way?” Now we realize that Jesus was quoting from a Psalm (22:1) and is that Psalm expressive of the thoughts of our Lord? Did he feel forsaken? Many of these lamentation Psalms express a sense of abandonment. There is no sin in feeling this way as long as it doesn’t lead us to distrust God or accuse him of wrong. It is not a good place to be in questioning God this way and so we must work our way out of that thinking and that is exactly what happens in Psalm 22. There is a back-and-forth conversation in the mind of the Psalmist as you can see by the word “but” used in verses 3, 6, 9 and 19.

Psalm 22 is one of the most powerful prophecies concerning the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is expressive of everything that happened on that moment. We have to consider all of what it says to be true of Jesus on the cross. He was touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He was tempted in all points like as we are yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). I am convinced that these were his thoughts in Psalm 22:1-2,

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.”

The rejoinder to these questions and feelings is immediately in verse 3-5. Notice here the repetition of the word “trust”.

“But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.”

Then verses 6-8 swing back in a challenge, “But I am a worm” which again are answered starting in verse 9, “But thou art he that took me out of the womb…” This back-and-forth threads all the way through the crucifixion till the final confident answer in verse 24,

“For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.”

Our Lord has given us the most wonderful example of how to endure suffering and overcome. He has taught us how to pray.


What do you think? Would you question God in your prayers? Do your prayers ever become that desperate? I believe that these scriptures show us how valuable this can be. We should be calling out to God “how long?” How long will the wicked prosper? How long until you redeem us from sin and death? While we may feel that God is distant from us, our questions help us to realize that the problem is ours and not his. These questions can help us to stop focusing on ourselves and to focus on God. That’s what Jesus did, and he has wonderfully showed us the way.