What Christianity Offers the Troubled Soul
The present pandemic of Coronavirus felt around the world has people taking a fresh look at a very old theological question of why an all-powerful, all-loving God does not end the pandemic and other evils. What answer does Scripture give? Does being a Christian provide any benefit for those suffering under trials?
The best way to answer this question is to look at the writers of Scripture who faced many of the same kinds and severity of problems in their day. To find the troubled cries of the faithful, we need only turn to the lament psalms. A whopping 40% of the psalms can be classified as laments. A lament is an emotionally raw cry to God for some life crisis. The psalmist “takes God to account” for His perceived injustice or indifference. Psalm 10 is a very dark psalm in which David directs two accusations toward God, “Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?” David is at a desperate moment in his life and has become a practical atheist. God is either absent or uncaring. He is either powerful or loving, but not both. David gives voice to what we’re all thinking, “Lord, why don’t you just end my suffering right now?”
In the case of Psalm 10, David lingers in the darkness for much of the psalm. But in verse 12, there is an awakening to faith and a plea for God to rise up and act on his behalf. The psalmist’s focus shifts from himself and his problems to the God who saves. By verse 16, David hits full stride, “The Lord is King for ever and ever.” This is the trajectory of every lament psalm. Fear gives way to a confession of faith and trust. What is the motivation for trusting when circumstances demand otherwise? The psalmists do not pin their hopes on immediate relief. Rather, they look to future deliverance. Nevertheless, God has not left us to struggle alone.
The greatest hope the believer has is that one day all fear, sorrow, and pain will be past. The same psalmist who described himself as a miserable wretch in Psalm 10 declared at the end of Psalm 16, “In thy presence is fulness of joy; At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” Future glory is the ultimate deliverance. The psalmists have said, “I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:6); “For he hath delivered me out of all trouble” (Psalm 54:7); “Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption (Psalm 130:7). Israel’s deliverance was tied to the land. Their future hope was for the generations after them to experience the fulfillment of the blessing promises. But they also looked beyond the land to the future kingdom. The Lord is King means not only that He will watch over and care for the faithful, but that He will judge the wicked. Every wrong will be righted. “The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble” (Psalm 99:1).
For the believer living today, the hope of Christianity remains the coming of the King and His glorious reign in the kingdom. The Apostle Paul said that God has called us “unto his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). Then all the hardships of life will be a distant memory. Paul again said, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Future glory may not ease present suffering, but it helps the heavy soul bear up under the load. The prospect of the victor’s crown makes the agony of the race bearable.
But what of today? How can God sit and watch as evil is committed and seemingly innocent people suffer? David, like other psalmists, has no simple answers for today. He attempts no excuse for God. All he has are his present circumstances and his perplexity. The reader of Psalm 10 can feel his fear, anxiety, helplessness, anger, and threat of death. He gives no hint of any immediate relief. Neither is there indication his enemies will be destroyed in his lifetime. And help that is just out of reach can seem to be no help at all. One Bible commentator states, “While many believers find consolation in the greater concept of [future things], many cannot. And [the reality of future things] is rarely of immediate help to the oppressed who do not believe.”1
On some level, we must accept that hardship and trials are part and parcel of this human existence. Yet when David was “greatly distressed” and in fear of his life, he “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). And this is a note which sounds clearly throughout the psalms, including the lament psalms. David and the other psalmists had a strong sense of God’s presence, even in their darkness. The writer of Psalm 46 declared, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear…” In Psalm 9, which is textually linked with Psalm 10, David has adopted a spirit of exuberant praise and bold declarations of faith although his circumstances are no different. The only thing that has changed in Psalm 9 is David’s perspective. God is not hiding as David had thought. “He hath prepared his throne for judgment…The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: For thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” (Psalm 9:7, 9-10).
Our Unseen Helper
In this present age, Christians understand that God is present through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ gave His life to redeem sinful man and all of creation to himself. And knowing that He would go back to heaven to be with the Father, Jesus said, “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth…I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18). Christians have the comforting ministry of the Holy Spirit to sustain and uplift the human spirit during times of severe trial. He offers wisdom for finding deeper meaning and purpose in suffering (James 1:5). He is the reassuring voice of our loving heavenly Father (Romans 8:15-16). He works submission, obedience and the fruits of the Spirit at times when those character traits are wearing thin (1 Peter 1:22). The Holy Spirit is the presence of God when trials seem bigger and nearer than God. The essence of true faith is trusting when no immediate help is in sight (Hebrews 11:1). The Holy Spirit is the unseen helper.
Scripture never gives a promise of immediate deliverance from the effects of the sin-curse. What Christianity offers the hurting or fearful soul is inner peace in the middle of the storm through the indwelling Holy Spirit, the promise of eternal glory beyond this brief existence, and the assurance that the King will set all things right by His righteous judgment. Now what does atheism offer?