Psalm 74: Arise, O God!
April 3, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Joshua 6-7, Psalm 74, Mark 1:21-34, 1 Corinthians 2
Why do bad things happen to good people? Most of us have asked that question from time to time, and a species of that sort of question frames this psalm. “O God, why do you cast us off forever?” (74:1).
The question of this psalm is not so much why do bad things happen to good people, but more why do bad things happen to God’s people. We all know that there is none who is truly righteous, and so in a sense we expect that in this fallen world we will all experience suffering on occasion. But the bigger conundrum for the believer is why God apparently lets bad things happen to his own people. It does indeed sometimes seem as if he has “cast us off.”
The psalmist does not so much answer the philosophical question as in practice wrestle with the reality. He firsts ask that God “remember” (74:2). It is not that God has literally forgotten. But in prayer he is calling God’s attention to that which he has promised—his covenant.
Then he recounts the situation before God. “Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place” (74:4). Things are bad, and they are bad right in the heart of God’s realm.
Then he records their own sense of lack of any guidance. “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long” (74:9). They have no idea what God is up to, and it seems as if God is silent about the whole thing.
“Yet,” the psalmist now shores up his faith by recounting the truth of who God is. “Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth” (74:12). It might seem that God is absent. It might seem that he is silent. It might seem that he is doing nothing about the situation. It might even seem that he can do nothing about it. But those fears fall before the confidence of faith because of the truth of the personhood of God.
It is important, Christian, that you school yourself in the doctrine of God so that you can answer the attacker and the accusers. Yes, things do indeed look bad. But you know who God is, so there must be a truth you cannot see. It’s like telling a child in an airplane that the pilot knows what he is doing; far more so with God when you go through a storm. Remind yourself who God is.
He again asks God to “remember” (74:18), to remember the “life of your poor forever” (74:19; there are echoes here of Jesus’ use of the poor in the beatitudes to express those who are following God truly), and to in short “have regard for the covenant” (74:20).
With all this in mind, he concludes now with a final bold prayer: “Arise, O God, defend your cause” (74:22). It is not their cause; it is God’s cause—because it is God’s covenant, his promise, and his character that is ultimately at stake. This is the kind of prayer that moves mountains, and—as the queen famously said of the reformer John Knox—is the kind of fear that is more powerful than any human military.
If you are wondering where God is or what God is doing or why he seems to have abandoned his people, then pray this psalm. Let it take you through the valley to emerge on the rock of confidence of God and who God is. And then pray: “Arise, O God, defend your cause”!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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