Kids ask a lot of questions. I have four of them so I am in a near constant state of answering a myriad of who, what, when, where, and whys.
Why do horses stand so much?
Why is her hair red?
How do footballs get made?
Why doesn’t it snow here?
But there is a line of questions that comes out of my kids that are unlike their usual ones. These questions carry a different tone and often come out during instruction, difficulty, or even discipline. When I put a child in time out, he cries, “How long?” When I deliver a lengthy speech on obedience, he asks, “Why?” When he calls me to his bedroom in the middle of the night, he whimpers, “Why do I have such scary dreams?”
When life is hard, the questions get harder. When life gets scary, the questions get only more intense and frequent. The questions are no longer ones of innocence and curiosity, but desperation. They need to know that I am there and a safe place. They need to know that I hear and haven’t forgotten them.
My questions before God are no different. Like a small child fearful of what is to come, I ask questions about God’s presence.
Where are you?
Have you forgotten?
What is the purpose of this?
Do you hate me?
Are you good?
Can I trust you?
Sometimes we can be afraid to speak out loud our greatest fears and questions. Depending on your theological camp, those questions might not be welcomed or may be perceived as distrust in God. The Bible is certainly filled with countless encouragements to trust in the Lord (Jer. 17:7–8; Ps. 37:3; 56:4; 91:1–2; Prov. 3:5–6; Heb. 13:6). But the Bible is also filled with hard questions and portrays a God who is able to bear the weight of the questions his people bring before him. It is filled with questions not unlike the ones I ask in my moments of darkness. Maybe you ask them too.
The Dark Psalms
While we might be tempted to avoid such questions in the presence of the Almighty, the Bible isn’t. In fact, much of the psalter is filled with voices questioning God’s care, concern, and presence. Surveying the world around them—and even their own souls—leads many of the psalmists to conclude that God must have moved beyond them. They may mentally assent to God’s care, but their heart and lives feel far from it.
Consider Psalm 89. The heading alone (“Perplexity about God’s Promises” in the HCSB) tells us that our questions are not foreign to the Bible. But that’s not how the psalm begins. It begins with praise, promise, and hope. In fact, the psalmist goes on for thirty-seven verses in that theme before it all crashes around him:
But you have spurned and rejected him;
you have become enraged with your anointed.
The words point to David and the covenant God made with him in 2 Samuel 7, where God promised an eternal kingdom and dynasty to David’s descendants forever. By all accounts it looks like that promise has dried up, and so that’s where the psalmist lands. He is spurned. He is rejected. And then he spends the next seven verses unpacking just how bad the rejection is.
“How long?” he cries. “Where are you?” he begs. Much like the psalmist in Psalm 77, remembering God and his ways only makes him moan with grief.
We like to think of the psalms as praise anthems to our good God. And many of them are. But they are also dirges of despair for weary pilgrims dragging their broken feet to Zion. In fact, most of them are more sad than happy; more dark than light. Some lack resolution (Psalm 88). Some find deliverance in the middle of a prayer (Psalm 22). But so many of them speak the language of angst and longing, which is why Christians have loved them for so long. If you are bearing the weight of unfulfilled longings, the psalms meet you in that ache and speak kinship into your soul.
People Can’t Bear the Weight, But God Can
I’ll be honest. I am not always a sympathetic ear to my own kid’s anxiety. I am quick to judge. I am quick to brush it off as disobedience. I am quick to push him towards easy solutions. It’s our natural bent when someone struggles and we can’t fix it. Instead of holding the tension of the uncertainty, we try to balance the scales with pat answers that only add more weight to an already heavy side.
People can’t bear the weight of shared angst. They may lend a sympathetic ear if we are lucky. But in the long game of anxiety, depression, and suffering, only a sovereign can balance the scale perfectly. He can both bear the load of our questions and hold up the other end by his own power. We feel the despair of our longings acutely when we equate the insensitive or trite comments of others with the very words of God. God is not calling down from heaven telling weary hearts to just have more faith in his sovereignty. He is calling us to lay our burdens down at his feet—hard questions and all—because his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30).
You can run to him with your hard questions. He won’t be weighed down. He will instead bear you up, providing you with a soft place to rest under the difficulty of the unknown. As many saints of old remind us, there is no question too unknown that God is not ready to hear with his sympathetic ear.
Cover image by Fidel Fernando