Common phrasing today of ancient question: “Where was God when….?” Comes in different forms: impassioned cry from broken heart; cynical challenge from skeptic; sincere question from trusting child of God. Fill in dots with choice of tragedy – suicide, death of a child, cancer diagnosis, 9/11, avalanche, war…. When you are asked the question, do you have an answer? And closely related to that, why are people today more apt to ask than they were 100 years ago? Do you know where your God is?
Uncertain when it was written or who the author was – many suggestions, but all are only speculative. Scenario from first two verses: judging by circumstances people of God appeared to be in trouble, perhaps even abandoned by God. Prompted heathen neighbors to taunt them: “So where is their God?” Our text the response of psalmist to both ridicule and own personal confusion / wonderment – not so much about God’s location as about his seeming lack of action.
One more introductory note: stark contrast here between God and those devoted to him with idols and their devotees. Idols have parts and can be seen but are totally useless. God cannot be seen but he created and acts. Idol-worshipers dismiss the true God, his people praise him. The true God is the one who rules, who lives, who gives and who therefore deserves praise.
A. God Rules v.1-3
opening cry to God is that he would show himself glorious – emphasized that God is in first place, not his people (1)
too often, that’s opposite of what we hear most even from other Christians – e.g., I just want God to get me through this, if God would only do that, if God loves me he will do this
description of love found in Bible always has focus on what is best for the other person: Christ loved the church and gave himself…(Eph. 5:25); God loved us and gave his Son….(1 John 4:9-11); love is not self-serving (1 Cor 13.5)
significant element of loving God (1st command) is desiring what is best for God – that he be glorified and worshiped as he deserves, receive all that is proper for the first and best of beings
so, our first motive for God to demonstrate his steadfast love and faithfulness (mercy and truth) should be that God be honored above all — second in the list is benefits to us that accompany his demonstration
for the nations / Gentiles to ask this kind of question, some things had to be true of those who claimed to be God’s people (2)
was not readily apparent from people’s lives or circumstances that God was on their side – outwardly were no better off than pagan neighbors, perhaps even worse off than idolaters
if psalm were written following return from exile, not much about the character of their lives to distinguish from pagans
Ezra had to deal with “The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the local residents who practice detestable things” (Ezr. 9:1)
Nehemiah experienced similar: heathen tenants in the temple; no financial support for God’s ministry in the temple; failure to properly observe day of worship; intermarriage between God’s people and unbelievers (Neh. 13)
in other words: God’s people on the one hand, pagans on the other – little if any discernable difference
if God of Israel was real, neither he nor his power was evident in majority of his people; why shouldn’t the Gentiles say….
psalmist gave the right answer – we know where God is and what he is doing; true enough, good theological answer
our God, the Creator God, Elohim cannot be seen and he actually does things
invisible does not mean non-existent; we accept existence of many things we cannot observe though we can see their effects – electricity, gravity, wind
more telling, our God has acted and accomplished things that are unexplainable apart from God
“God does all that he pleases” – not whatever he feels like, maybe on a whim, maybe this or that or the other with no overarching purpose
God will accomplish absolutely every element / detail of his comprehensive purpose from before creation throughout eternity – he will be frustrated in nothing, he will leave nothing out, he will do nothing extra
all that God purposed to do will be achieved according to his time, in his way, for the end he has designed: in 2 words, God Rules
B. God Lives v.4-8
our God lives, he acts, presently inhabits his glorious home in heaven – a dimension beyond ability of human senses to directly observe; what about their gods??
idols are created by men, not the creator of men – everything about their existence and attributes is explainable by and fully comprehensible to mankind
by virtue of their construction and constitution – how they’re made and what they’re made of – idols unquestionably lesser than mankind, is irrational to worship them
seven ways they are inferior, even worthless, unable to do even what man can, much less the true God
1. Mouths: “but cannot speak” – unable to make promises, give instruction or warning or encouragement
2. Eyes: “but they cannot see” – unable to see reality, cannot give protective oversight, cannot recognize truth, much less communicate it to their followers
3. Ears: “but they cannot hear” – cannot see need of worshipers, cannot hear cries for help; any response, if it were possible, would have no direct connection with present circumstances
4. Noses: “but they cannot smell” – unable to receive worship and respond either positively or negatively; Noah built an altar, sacrificed, God smelled a soothing aroma (Gen. 8:20-21)
5. Hands: “but they cannot do” – are powerless to accomplish anything on behalf of worshipers unlike true God who made everything and continually exercises his power (Heb. 1:3)
6. Feet: “but they cannot walk” – must be carried from place to place, cannot even stand themselves up if they fall over; remember Dagon and Ark of the Covenant!
7. Less than the beasts: “they cannot make a sound with their throat”
just like the one who is power behind ouija boards, seances and the like (Satan) – idols are colossal deception: have appearance of usefulness but no power to act
sad fact is people of all sorts worship idols today: what do they live for, what motivates them, what sets priority for decision-making – pleasure, position, power, possessions – as always, come up empty
greatest tragedy not what they cannot do, is what idols can do: their followers become like what they worship
C. God Gives v.9-15
those who trust in true God, the self-existent covenant God, Yahweh, have great cause for assurance and encouragement (9-11)
assurance of God’s providential care extended to all sorts: God’s chosen people, those who were leaders and teachers of chosen people, all who are his loyal followers regardless of ancestry
God is committed to deliver and protect those who trust in him – often has physical needs in view, always applies to our souls
God may protect us from physical harm; always protects us from what would harm our eternal soul (12-15)
God may graciously grant us temporal blessings, but….remember verse 3 – if he does, will be in keeping with his purpose
blessing is conditional: is promised to those who fear the Lord; sure, there is “spillover” to those nearby (neighbors, family members, etc) but God’s direct blessing is on those who are his
blessing God gives first is his favor, then what he promised in his covenant (Jer. 31:31ff; Heb. 8:8ff), primarily spiritual blessings culminating in eternal life and full inheritance
the blessings God gives come from his limitless store out of which he made heaven and earth
D. God Deserves Praise v.16-18
the true God deserves praise because of who he is – owner and ruler of all things – and because of what he does – sustains his creation for the good of his creatures (16)
created a place ideally suited for mankind, still suitable even after the Fall; filled with all things necessary for life and health
that there is famine or need is not God’s fault; is result of sinful human beings misusing God’s good gifts
the true God deserves our praise especially because he gives life – the dead do not praise….but we will bless the Lord….forever (17-18)
idols have no life and therefore can give no life to anything else; even ones who make idols, although they have life, are powerless to give it to others
when man tinkers in the laboratory, cannot create life, can only modify it in some way and within boundaries set by God
the living and true God is source of all life – if he has given us spiritual life, we have duty to use that life to bless him and praise him
Let’s make brief application. If people around are asking “Where is your God?”, how should we be living and how should we answer? Parenthesis: our answer will be credible only when our life backs it up.
Problem is – too much of the time Christians live and act like their god is an idol; see v.8. We become like the God we trust, worship. Christians ought not to look like everybody else, ought not to act like everybody else because we worship and love a different God. First, then, focus must be on true and living God and his Son the Lord Jesus. Striving to know him, to please him at all points, to become more like the Lord Jesus – to think like him and act as he would have us. First priority must be to love God, give him the glory and our full allegiance.
Then we must recognize and be prepared to point out to others where God is at work in the world. Where do we see things prayed for that God has answered? Where things that only God’s hand explains? Sinners being converted; God changing hearts of leaders to do what is right; evildoers restrained or frustrated?
And…must be living consistently by God’s grace and with his help in such a way that we are useful to him. Best example is of God’s power at work in our own life – being able to tell and show skeptic how we are different, counter-cultural, more like the Lord Jesus because of what he has done in us. Best way we can live differently is to be as genuinely enthusiastic in our praise of God as the world is to praise their gods. If we are to praise him from now on and forevermore, better get practiced up!!