Why Do You Hide Yourself?
Last week we began a four-month series in which we’ll work through about 20 or so of the Psalms, and we discussed how even though the Psalms were Israel’s hymnbook and are filled with some of the most incredible statements of praise and worship in the Bible, at least one-third of the Psalms are Psalms of lament: songs and prayers which express sorrow or grief or disappointment.
And we talked about how necessary it is for us at our moment in history to recapture this idea of lament. The Western world today is filled with hurting and struggling people who very often don’t know what to do with their sorrow. We don’t know how to be sad. And this problem permeates the church, where we not only don’t know how to be sad, we often feel like we’re not allowed to be sad.
And so one of the important gifts the Psalms give us is the language of lament. They give us a voice in our sorrow and show us how to relate to God in the full range of life experiences, including when things are hard.
We’re going to continue to explore these themes as we consider Psalm 10 this morning. This Psalm begins, similarly to Psalm 3, with honest prayer. The Psalmist is calling out to God in the middle of his struggle and in the middle of his questions. He’s telling God what he sees and how things seem.
Did you know what the word is for this kind of honest prayer that we see here in Psalm 10? Complaint. That’s what he’s doing. He’s complaining to God about what he’s seeing.
Complaint is the exact word that David used for this kind of prayer in Psalm 55:17: “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.” Psalm 142 speaks of this same experience: “With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him” (Psalm 142:1–2).
And complaint is what we encounter in Psalm 10. It begins in verse 1: “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” And from verse 2 down to verse 11 the Psalmist systematically lists out the complaints that he is bringing to God about the things he is seeing.
Two Red Flags
Now, right away, I’m sure that many of you in this room have at least a couple of red flags that have gone up in your mind what I’ve just said.
The first red flag is: I thought we’re not supposed to complain! I thought complaining is sinful! So how is that ok?
The second red flag is this: this is God we’re talking about! God, the holy, sovereign, powerful creator. I thought we’re supposed to submit to His will and bow ourselves before Him. Doesn’t Romans 9:20 say “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” And now you’re telling us that not only is complaining ok, but we can do it to Him? How is this even possible?
If you had those two red flags in your thinking, that’s good. I hope you’re not thinking, “Yes! I get to complain!” We should have those red flags questions about this idea of complaint. And we’re going to answer those questions together as we explore Psalm 10 together.
Are We Allowed to Complain?
So first, let’s consider this basic idea of complaint in and of itself. I hope you know that, in general, complaining is not something we’re supposed to do. Right about now I hear George Sholter’s voice in my head, when you’d ask him how he was doing. And he’d say, “Can’t complain, shouldn’t complain, nobody wants to hear me complain.”
And he was right, if by “complain” we mean grumbling, or whining, or arguing. Those things are often what we mean when we say “complain,” and they are always sin.
But the word “complain” can also just mean telling someone when something is wrong. And that’s what’s happening in Psalm 10. The Psalmist is not sinfully grumbling or whining—he’s going right to God and telling Him what appears to be wrong. That’s biblical complaint. And we’re going to come back to this idea of attitude in a little bit.
Complaining is also wrong if the thing we’re complaining about is not a legitimate complaint. If it’s not something we should be complaining about in the first place.
Every winter here in Saskatchewan people complain about how cold it is. And my response is, “you know what province you live in, right? And you chose to live here, right?” It gets cold here, and nobody ever promised us it was going to be any different. And I wrote this point in my notes before I looked at the weather forecast for this weekend!
Another kind of complaining I’ve noticed is parents about their children. You know, the eye-rolling “you’ll never believe what my kid did today.” Or the snarky social media posts whining about how hard it is to raise children.
And again, I want to ask those people: “You chose to have kids, right? You know that that they don’t enter this world as fully-formed adults, right? That thing you’re complaining about is exactly what you signed up for. That’s what being a parent is all about.”
These are two examples of illegitimate complaining. Complaining about things we shouldn’t complain about.
But what about the things that you should complain about?
If you just bought a new car, and one week later the engine blows up, you’re going to call up the dealership and tell them what happened and ask them to fix it. You’re not just going to let that slide, because that kind of thing shouldn’t happen. That’s not what you signed up for. That’s not what you were promised. In that kind of a situation, it is right for you to politely and respectfully complain.
And that’s the kind of situation in Psalm 10. The psalmist is complaining to God about a set of circumstances that should not be. Listen to the kinds of things he complains about:
- “In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor” (verse 2).
- “…the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord” (verse 3).
- “He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless” (verse 8).
- “He says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it’” (verse 11).
The psalmist is upset about a wicked person, or a wicked group of people, who are cursing God, oppressing the poor, and getting away with it. And not just getting away with it, but succeeding! Verse 5: “His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them” (Psalm 10:5).
And this causes the Psalmist to complain to God that it looks like he’s standing far away, hiding himself while this goes on. He’s just letting these people get away with it.
Now remember when this Psalm was written and who it was written by. This Psalm would have been penned by an Israelite living under the Mosaic covenant. And in that covenant, God commanded His people repeatedly not to oppress the poor. And He promised to curse and not bless those who ignored Him and broke His law.
And the writer of Psalm 10 looks around him at fellow Israelites who are trampling on the poor and vulnerable. And He knows that according to what God has said, God should be standing up and punishing these wicked people.
But instead, they are prospering. They are doing well. They are totally getting away with it, and are saying that “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it” (Psalm 10:11).
And so this is where the Psalmists’ complaint comes from. It looks like God is not keeping His promises. It really looks like He is standing far away and hiding Himself. He doesn’t seem to be doing what He said He would do.
So the Psalmist’s complaints are legitimate, biblical complaints. This is not whining about personal discomfort. These are honest questions about a set of circumstances that appear to be totally out of sync with God’s character and God’s promises.
So Psalm 10 does not give you and I a big blank check to complain to God about anything and everything.
When we feel prompted to complain, we need to stop and check ourselves. What are we complaining about, and why? Are we complaining about things that are really just normal and expected, things we really have no right to complain about, like a cold January in Saskatchewan?
Or are we complaining because our circumstances seem seriously out of step with the character of God? Are we complaining because it really seems like God is not doing something that He should be doing?
I’m reading a very excellent book right now called “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy,” and it’s going to go in the church library as soon as I’m done with it. It’s a book about lament, and how lament is a gift of grace from God to us. And there’s a whole chapter in there on complaint. And the author mentions that at times when his heart has been burdened with complaints, he’s sat down and written out a list of his complaints—very similar to what Psalm 10 does.
And he said that sometimes he’d find himself laughing at how silly some of his complaints were, but even just writing out what they were was helpful. And then, once he had done this filtering work, he could offer the real, legitimate, biblical complaints to God in honest prayer.
Hurting for the Truly Vulnerable
Now before we move on, I do want us to notice the specific content that the Psalmist is complaining about here. He is really bothered to see wicked men oppressing the vulnerable and getting away with it.
Are we bothered when we see the same thing? I hope you know that God’s concern for the truly vulnerable and His commitment to uphold justice are not confined to the Mosaic covenant. He punished Sodom and Gomorrah long before Moses, and Romans 1:18 tells us that now in the era of the New Covenant, “…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).
And so we should take note of how Psalm 10 expresses concern for God’s reputation when the truly vulnerable are oppressed by the wicked and nothing seems to happen.
It might be easy to think that the kind of thing that Psalm 10 describes—wicked men hiding in ambush to murder the poor—maybe happened back then, but not any more. We don’t have this kind of thing in our world anymore. I beg to differ.
Psalm 10 came alive to me several years ago when I was driving home and turned on CBC and listened to an interview with someone from an organization called “Women on Waves.” This organization travels around the world by boat to perform abortions in countries where it’s illegal. They will drop anchor in international waters and go into these villages and lure these women back to their floating platforms of death where the innocent are killed. These women are literally missionaries of murder. And here they were, being interviewed on the CBC as if nothing was wrong.
That night, I felt a rage and a sorrow which I needed a voice for, and I found it in Psalm 10. I read verse 8 and how it literally describes what these women were doing—sitting in ambush in the villages, murdering the innocent in hiding places. And Psalm 10 gave me voice to cry out to God and ask him how long he would let people get away with that. How long until Christ returns and brings justice with him?
In recent months my soul has been churned again as I’ve been encountering more disturbing facts of this atrocity known as abortion. Did you know that here in Canada, abortion is the leading cause of death? 100,000 Canadian babies a year are murdered inside their own mother’s wombs. That’s over 11 abortions every hour, adding up to 30% of all Canadian deaths each year, 20,000 more than those who die of cancer.
I recently had a conversation with a medical student who had to witness an actual abortion taking place and described to me what she witnessed. It was one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever heard, and I can assure you that those doctors and nurses in those rooms know full well that it’s a real baby they’ve just killed. They see the little arms, the little feet.
And I hope, when you hear about that, it chews you up. But what do we do when we remember that there is this silent holocaust is going on all around us? Where do we start? We start by doing what Psalm 10 does: we lament and we bring our complaints to God. We cry out to Him to bring this injustice to an end. “How long, O Lord?”
Now there is perhaps not where we end. I’ve recently become convicted about some ways that I can contribute to the fight against abortion, not at a political level but at a very personal level. I’d love to talk with you about some of that if you’re curious. But for the sake of Psalm 10 this morning, I just want to ask us: do we feel what the author of this Psalm feels? Do we cry out to God for justice when we see the truly vulnerable being oppressed by the wicked who seem to just get away with it? Do we long for the return of Christ, which will be the day when true justice prevails forever? I hope so.
Are We Allowed to Complain to God?
So that’s the first red flag down. Complaint is OK when we are complaining about legitimate things which should not be.
Next I want to move on to the second red flag we saw this morning. Is complaining to God even ok? Doesn’t this sound disrespectful to God? Aren’t we supped to trust in His sovereignty?
Those are excellent questions. And they remind us that we need to be careful when discussing these things. The Psalms don’t give us a blank check to talk to God however we’d like. The Psalms never encourage us to be angry with God.
But they do encourage us to be respectfully honest as we bring our legitimate complaints to Him. So how do we do that without going too far?
Psalm 10 gives us the answer as it shows us how to complain with humility and how to complain with hope.
Humility is seen in the way that the Psalmist asks questions of God instead of making accusations.
Notice that verse 1 doesn’t say, “O Lord, you are standing far away and you shouldn’t be. You are hiding yourself in times of trouble and you have no good reason for doing so.” Instead, he asks God questions. He’s being honest in his questions, telling God the way that things seem, but there is humility in the fact that they are questions. Maybe there’s an answer here. Maybe there’s something he’s missing that God knows.
When we bring our complaints to God we must come with the humility that recognizes our perspective is limited. There is so much we don’t know and so much we don’t see.
Isn’t that one of the big points of the book of Job? When Job suffered, he had no idea what was going on in heaven. He had no idea about Satan’s involvement in his struggle. And God never told him. When God did speak to Job, all He really did was remind Job about how much he didn’t know.
So when we complain, we don’t march in with angry accusations. We humbly come with honest questions.
And second, Psalm 10, along with the rest of the Psalms, teach us to complain with hope. This Psalm begins with questions, and lists its complaints, and verse 12 asks God to arise and lift His hand and not forget the afflicted.
But then verse 14 bursts in with a shot of raw hope: “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.” And then again in verses 16-18: “The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”
This is the truth. It feels like God is hiding himself, and even though the Psalmist says so, he actually does know better. He knows that God does see. He knows that God is taking note of what the wicked are doing so that he can deal with them. He knows that God is the helper to the fatherless. God is the king forever and ever who has sent the wicked nations out of his land and so can deal with the wicked among His own people. God does hear the desire of the afflicted. He will strengthen their heart. He is listening to them to do justice for them. And there will come a day when wicked men will strike terror no more.
So this is one of the secrets of biblical complaint: we don’t stay stuck in it. Complaint is not as place we camp out permanently. It’s a necessary first step on the path to truth-filled hope.
I mentioned that book “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy.” In the chapter on Psalm 10 he describes sitting in the car with his wife after another devastating visit to the doctor where they heard heartbreaking news they were not expecting to hear. And his wife prayed out loud and said: “God, I know you’re not mean, but it feels like you are today.” (p. 41).
That is an example of biblical complaint. She was honestly telling him how things seemed but at the same time was acknowledging her limited perspective and expressing her confidence that God was not cruel, despite how things felt at the moment.
Perhaps, though, the greatest example of true, biblical complaint from the mouth of Jesus while He hung on the cross. “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:33–34).
Do you know what Jesus was doing there? He was quoting a Psalm of lament. He was quoting Psalm 22, written by David, which opens with these words. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1–2).
When David penned these words, he was describing how it felt, how things seemed to him in his situation. It seemed like he had been abandoned and forsaken by a God who was not listening to his prayers, and so he poured out his complaint to the Lord. And as Psalm 22 goes on, David expresses more and more confidence that God does in fact hear him and is going to save him, despite all appearances.
But when Jesus uttered these words, he wasn’t only speaking of how things seemed. He was expressing what was really happening. Because on the cross, Jesus truly did experience abandonment and exile. He did experience God’s curse and God’s wrath. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…” (Galatians 3:13). “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10a).
And He did it for us. That’s what our sins deserved, but He took it instead of us.
And so the incredible truth of the gospel brings such clarity to our own suffering and lament and complaint. There will be times when God seems far off, when it feels like we’ve been forsaken, when it feels like we are under the curse of God. But we can know that because those things really did happen to Jesus, they are not and will never happen to us, despite all appearances.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39).
That is what Jesus died to purchase for us. The confidence of the inseparable love of God for us.
And so it’s fitting now that we would turn now to the table before us where we remember the death of our Saviour and proclaim the hope of His return. This is the hope that we need in our complaint and our lament. That no matter how dark things feel, we have a Saviour who walked out of His grave and who will split the skies some day soon and wipe every tear from our eyes.
So we can tell God how it feels. Be honest with Him about how things seem. Bring our humble complaint to Him. But this table reminds us that we know how it all ends.