The Theology of "How Long...?"

I have to follow up my last post with some thoughts that struck me late last night. There is an element of worship you find in the Psalms that is pretty much completely absent from worship in the church today. The element is "How Long?". It comes out in two different forms in the Psalms. I'm going to list all the examples.

The first is God asking "How long...?"
  • Ps. 4:2 - O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?
  • Ps. 62:3 - How long will all of you attack a man...?

The second is much more prevalent and is the psalmist questioning God.
  • Ps. 6:3 - My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD— how long?
  • Ps. 13:1 - How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
  • Ps. 13:2 - How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
  • Ps. 35:17 - How long, O Lord, will you look on?
  • Ps. 74:10 - How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
  • Ps. 79:5 - How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever?
  • Ps. 80:4 - O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
  • Ps. 82:2 - How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?
  • Ps. 89:46 - How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?
  • Ps. 90:13 - Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!
  • Ps. 94:3 - O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?
  • Ps. 119:84 - How long must your servant endure?

When I read some of those statements, they strike me as having the kind of attitude that we are often told NOT to have towards God. Questioning God's timing, judgement, and wisdom is something that is generally discouraged in the modern church. I think the line of thought is that this kind of openness toward God lacks faith and trust and borders on being sacreligious.

But as I was meditating on these passages last night, I realized how healthy this attitude can be. By asking God, "How long?", we express an expectancy that is often lacking in the modern American church. We are so content with now and so caught up in now, that we forget how flawed the now is. We have something to hope for that is so much greater than what we're experiencing now. This is the "American" problem. We generally have it so good, that we don't really look forward to what will be ultimately better.

I also believe by openly questioning God, it can be an honest admission that God is in control. "How long?" is us coming to grips with the fact that we don't know it all or even know how to solve the problems of life. The solutions to life's problems are entirely in God's hands - all we can do is wait for God to reveal them. But, of course, because we're human, we struggle with being patient and waiting on God's timing. This is when "How long?" comes to the surface in those who walk close enough to God to ask such a bold question.

We need to re-embrace the "How long?" in our worship, in our quiet time, and in our overall view of the Kingdom.

No comments: