There are times when it seems our Father is a dead-beat dad. Sometimes it feels like He’s even worse. He’s not just a father who skips town to leave us to fend for ourselves. No, He’s right there in our living room, sprawled in an easy chair, asleep, while we’re screaming our heads off, begging for mercy, but all in vain as He snores on.
Those are the times when it’s easy to pray with the psalmist, “Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? Why do You hide Your face and forget our affliction and our oppression?” (Psalm 44:23f). “Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He never be favorable again? Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? I said in my grief, that the right hand of the most high has changed” (77:7-10). When one psalm praises God for finally coming to the people’s aid, the poet compares Him to a hung-over soldier who finally shook Himself awake to save His people (78:65).
These are not the prayers of blasphemers but of sufferers, of children who cry, “Father, are you awake? Are You in Your celestial easy chair, catching some Z’s while I’m down here catching shrapnel, catching sickness, catching hell? Don't you care? Have you retired from your job as rescuer? Do you have Alzheimer’s, living in the past, as if the world is still a trouble-free paradise, forgetting who you are, where you are, who your children are, ignoring their prayers?”
Call me blasphemous if you want, but then you must say the same about David and Job and millions of other believers whose voices join this choir of the oppressed. But what do we do? We soft-pedal with God, as if we’re abused children who must soften our voices and lower our eyes, worried lest a fist should fall from the clouds to blacken our eyes. We’re hiding nothing from God. Do you think He’s happy to hear us sugarcoat our prayers when we really want to cast bitter cries into the heavens? Do you suppose He’d rather us put a cork on our pain, plaster smiles on our faces, and pretend as if nothing is really bothering us? Does the God of truth desire prayers that amount to lies?
I am not advocating that we cuss out God just because we’re in a foul mood. I’m not saying that we ought to do more screaming than praying. I am saying, however, that when we are depressed or happy, scared to death or bubbling over with life, that we ought not to pretend the opposite while down on our knees. David didn’t. Job didn’t. Jesus didn’t. From the cross, He didn’t cry, “My God, my God, why have you blessed me with such a great privilege as to hang here suffering for these dear children of Thine?” No, but rather, He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).
Witness when the disciples were with Jesus in that storm-tossed boat. Peter is petrified; Thomas is terrified; the rest of them have their hearts stuck in their throats. The wind is wailing, the sea vomits wave after wave into the boat, darkness bares its blackened teeth, the lake whips these sailors about in a game of cat-and-mouse, the watery feline putting off her fatal bite until she’s bored with such sadistic fun. Thoughts of their soon-to-be widows flash through the men’s minds; their fatherless sons and daughters; how the cold water will feel as it rushes into their lungs and squeezes out every bubble of oxygen; their bloated corpses floating up onto the beach at sunrise. It is the midnight of the soul for these men, their lives unraveling before their very eyes.
And where is their Savior in this dark hour? Oh, there you are, in the stern, your head lying on a pillow, sleeping. Sleeping! How in God’s name could you be dozing while we’re about to drown, Jesus? Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”
Ah, that did it. Those words “don’t you care” were like the beep-beep-beep of Jesus’ alarm clock. Or perhaps more like three violent shakes. His eyes open, He stands, looks through the darkness at the storm and answers His disciples’ three words with three of His own: “Peace, be still.” It was as if, with those words, He flipped the storm-switch from “on” to “off.” For just like that, the wind ceased and there was great calm. The wailing wind voiceless; the vomiting sea all better; the blackened teeth of the storm now only showing a dreamy grin. Great calm, indeed.
Well, not quite. For now that the storm has been muted, Jesus has a few words to say to us: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” They cut deep, words such as these, don’t they? For they unmask our real problem. And that real promise is not so much that we fear storms, fear sickness, fear failure, fear shame, but that we don’t really fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Our faith is not a mountain but a grain of sand, not pure gold but gilded plaster. And all it takes is a few nicks and scratches to reveal its shallowness. All it takes is financial woes, a marriage on the rocks, rebellious teens, you name the storm—all it takes is a storm like these to reveal where our trust really lies: in ourselves and in what we have managed to make or to accomplish for ourselves. Put us on a boat in the middle of a mad storm and we’ll soon show the gods in whom we really trust. Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?
Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief. That is our table prayer, our bedside prayer, our office prayer, our going-to-the-movies prayer, our 24/7 petition. Lord, I do believe, but I also don’t believe. I am a cocktail of contradictions: double-hearted, forked-tongued, pulled heavenward and hellward every step I take. I fear you but I also fear failure. I trust you but I also trust myself. I love you but I also love the limelight. Lord, I am a saint and a sinner, your bride and the devil’s whore. Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.
But the Lord doesn’t help. No, He does far more. He forgives. He takes everything from your screaming to your belly-aching, everything your throw His way while He’s sleeping—He takes all this and pours it into His cup, as it were. He takes all your doubting and unbelieving, all your genuflecting before the idols in whom you really trust, all your double-speaking and double-heartedness—He takes all this and pours it into His cup, too. And He even takes your less-than-fully-sincere repentance, your less-than-fully-honest confession, and all the anger He ought to pour out on you—He takes all this as well to add to the poison that brims ever closer to the rim of His cup.
He extends His arms east and west, stretching them out as if to embrace the world. He lets the soldiers do their hammering and nailing, lets the crowds do their jeering and taunting, lets the demons do their shrieking and mocking. And opening His lips, He says, “Give me the cup, Father.” The chalice presses against His mouth, the bottom slowly tilts upward, and the poison of all our doubts and unbelief and the grossest of the gross sins of which we are guilty, all that liquid toxin goes barreling down His throat until the last drop is drunk and the deed is done. Then He closes His eyes, says, “It is finished,” and truly goes to sleep, into the sleep of death itself.
No, the Lord doesn’t help. He does far more. He drains the cup brimming with all the poison which would send us from this messed up world to a world of suffering that would never end. He drinks dry the storm of our sins. Christ doesn’t help our unbelief; He destroys it by letting it destroy Him.
That is the kind of God, the kind of Savior, you have. He only seems asleep. Trust me. Or, rather, trust Him. He who made the sea and its waves knows full well when storms rage. And if it seems God is asleep, then get some shut-eye yourself, for it’s better to snore with the Savior than remain awake with the father of unbelief and lies. When the time is right, He will do what must be done. He knows best. No dead-beat dad is He. No dead dad either. But a living, loving father, savior, and friend. All for you.
**This meditation is from my book, Christ Alone, which can be purchased at amazon.com