“My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?”Psalm 6:3
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”Psalm 13:1
These verses vividly express the pain that sometimes grips my heart. I might hesitate before praying this way if these words weren’t found in the Bible itself. Can I dare to go to God and question His timing, His love, His faithfulness? And yet there it is, right in God’s Word.
It’s comforting to know that I can bring my most challenging questions to a good God. And it’s comforting to know that the one crying out in the Bible is David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Does that mean that these words reflect God’s heart, that even He somehow yearns for the day when all our anguish ends and His face is no longer hidden from us?
My “how long’s” aren’t nearly as spiritual as David’s, though. I’m more likely to ask things like: How long until this pandemic ends? How long until the division in my country is healed? How long until my friend’s loved one kicks their heroin habit? How long until my energy returns? I suspect that God is just as willing to listen to those concerns. He grieves over them, too.
There are other places in His Word where that question pops up, in verses that I’m not so crazy about. They can be too convicting. The prophets ask it of God’s chosen nation.
“Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him’” (1 Kings 18:21).
“O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved. How long will you harbor wicked thoughts?” (Jeremiah 4:14).
Centuries before David wrote the words that comfort me, God was confronting the Israelites in the desert: “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” (Numbers 14:11).
Jesus rebuked His disciples when they were unable to drive a demon out of a child: “‘O unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me’”(Matthew 17:17). Ouch.
When I’m hurting, when God seems so far away, I need to hear and voice the “How long?” of David’s psalms. I need to remember this true God who goes far beyond any other false god in treasuring His people (Deuteronomy 7:6), in understanding and bearing our pain (Isaiah 53:4), in deeply desiring our joy and peace and hope (Ephesians 1:3). He goes so far that He sacrificed His own Son to bring us into an eternal relationship with Him.
But He knows that I cannot have that joy and peace and hope if I continue to waver between two opinions, to harbor wicked thoughts, to treat Him with contempt, to doubt Him in spite of the miracles that I’ve seen. Even when He’s turning the tables on me, when He’s asking me “How long?”, He’s doing it to draw me nearer to Him, to bring me to my best possible life.
And it helps me to remember that my momentary troubles will lead to an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17). No matter how long my pain seems to go on, no matter how long I experience God’s chastising before turning back to Him, if I can somehow look at it from the perspective of eternity, the answer to that gut-wrenching cry, “How long, O Lord, how long?” will always be, “Just a few brief moments.”
Ann O’Malley is the pseudonym of a new author seeking a publisher for her memoir of suicidal depression. Her pen name comes from “anomaly,” that feeling of being different, of not really belonging, which plagues so many of those who suffer from depression. For more of her writing, check out her blog, “Those Who Weep: Not-Quite-Evangelically-Correct Thoughts on Suffering,” at https://thosewhoweep.blogspot.com.