Waiting In Hope For God
1. Once while talking with a friend a book that a certain evangelist wrote became the subject of our conversation. Although I didn't know the evangelist I had heard how healings of illnesses and miracles take place in the church in which he gives pastoral care. The contents of the book were basically "When you pray trusting in Jesus' name, miracles will happen on the spot." I myself would never deny divine healings of illnesses. However, when I heard the things he said about that book, I got a little shaky over several of his points, and I said, "It seems to me there's somewhat of a theological problem here, isn't there?" So then, my words seemed to have bothered him to a degree and he answered back with "Your theology is just intellectual." He said, "In fact, nothing is happening in your church, is there? You don't even have signs and wonders visible at your church. I believe in the message of the One who makes it happen."
2. Well, I think it is so much more wonderful that we have many elderly persons who are healthy and not sick at our church than my experiencing miracles of healing and sickness here. Putting all that aside, what he said was right in one way. When you come to Osaka Nozomi Church you don't hear stories of various healings of seriously ill persons, nor have you ever heard a story of a person with eyes that could not see miraculously become a person with eyes that could see. Rather, we have people who have been afflicted with bodily weaknesses including persons who have put up with great suffering for a long time. My wife is one of those people. As for her condition, I think from the perspective of emerging religions in Japan, which are making a bill of goods out of healing, it would seem like a religion that is very powerless. But wait, the problem is not how people of other religions are seeing this. I feel it is more important how other Christians themselves might think about it. What they say probably will not be as extreme as what my friend has said. Instead, I think many Christians would answer with "You don't have a prayer answering religion." However, in all honesty, what does everyone here really think about it?
3. For example, take two Christians. One of the persons as a believer might pray to God and get a prompt resolution for a tough problem he had been dealing with and then go on to tell his friends with divine joy of the importance of faith. The other person may continue long in prayer but stays just the same in anguish without any change in his situation for a long while and he is then told by his unbelieving friends things like "Where's this God of yours?" Well, if you had to have demonstrations of faith made at some recent evangelistic meeting, which kind of proof would you all choose to have? Which story would you want to hear about? Which story would you tell to your unsaved friends?
The Person Who Seeks For God
4. If you are asking why am I talking about such a topic, it's because it truly deals with the psalm I read you today. Psalm 42 along with psalm 43 make up one song. We understand immediately in one reading of this how the character of this psalmist resembles overwhelmingly the latter person from among the two Christians raised as examples just moments ago. He is the character who is ridiculed by the faithless ones who said, "Where's this God of yours?" I would think that he is one of the captives who lost his native homeland. He was separated a great distance from Jerusalem and he was taken from near Mount Hermon and Mizar, the source of the Jordan River, and deported. At the new place he was surrounded by people of a strange religion and forced to live a harsh life. While oppressed by the enemy he says in verse four [of the Shinkyodo version or New Interconfessional Version], "Both day and night my food was just tears." Amid such sorrow and suffering his prayer seemed as if it had not been considered by God at all. The psalmist must have appealed to God saying, "Why have you forgotten me?," (verse ten). As they look at this attitude that he displays the people ridicule him more and more. They declare, "Where is your God?"
5. If the basis of a message worth listening to is that "something happens," the message of the person in these psalms would not be worth listening to at all because nothing happens, and because he is only made a fool of by the people of the other religion. However, the words of such a person is recorded smack dab in the Bible. Therefore, they are being read even today in this worship service. They have long been read for generations in the church. Why would the church "waste" time reading this kind of material? I would like us to carefully consider once more the reason for that. So, since there's a gap between the world of faith which we humans normally think in and the world of faith which the Bible speaks of, I feel we should get a tighter grip on what biblical faith is based on God's word given here today.
6. With that please go first to verse two. "As a deer seeks for water in a parched valley, O God, my soul seeks for you." In reading just this verse immediately I'm struck by one of its points. I'm struck by the point that this person is not seeking here for anything "from God." He is seeking "for God." As a captive he must have had plenty of hardships and heartbreaks on hand. He had to have needed some definite help from God. But, the main interest of his religion was not in seeking help from God. It was the seeking of God. He sought to behold the face of God and he sought a relationship where he could be alive in God. So when we think about our world and this matter of seeking God it is not what you would expect. Paul recorded the following excellent message in the letter to the Roman disciples. "There are no righteous persons; there is not even one person. There isn't anyone who comprehends, nor is there anyone who seeks to find God," (Romans 3:10-11). In many cases the interests of a person lie only in getting "something" from God. What one may call "faith" in a true sense does not even amount to a show of respect for God. This message from Paul is not for only other people. How are we who are gathered here actually doing? First, while we question ourselves about this matter, I think we should read on.
7. "As a deer seeks after water in a parched valley, O God, my soul seeks for you." In our trying to experience in depth what this means, we notice how this phrase actually goes through the entire body of this psalm. For example, I think in the message in verses ten and following there is never a place where he doesn't believe. He speaks in the following way. "I will say to my God, my rock. 'Why did you forget me? Why am I oppressed by the enemy and do I walk on and on in weeping?' The one who hurts me breaks my bones and ridicules me incessantly, saying, 'Where is your God?,'" (vv. ten through eleven).
8. When a person, who thinks "Religion is for seeking help from God and getting that help," gets into a situation where he or she feels forgotten by God, he or she gives up praying before long. At the point in time when one feels like prayer doesn't change a thing or there are no answers for anything, one ends up trashing such a religion. However, this psalmist has not done that. Indeed, even when they said, "Where is your God?'" he could not even reply back with one single word. He did not reply back at all because when you examine his actual situation what they said about it actually couldn't be helped. However, he does appeal directly to God crying out about this matter. When he says, "Why did you forget me?," he is making that statement to God alone. When you begin reflecting on this isn't it a strange story? But, I feel there is a need to try to carefully reflect on why this unusual event has happened.
9. "Why did you forget me?" How could he have made an appeal to God like this? He can appeal to God with such words because although he is speaking in such a way he does believe in God. He can appeal to God with such words because he believes in the One who certainly listens to his words. In short, even though it couldn't be helped how they said, "Where is your God?," he was alive in his personal relationship with God who had never been lost in the way they had so said. He had a relationship there in which he was alive with God. He knows the relationship of love with God that those who only ask God for things could never experience. Those who seek for God himself and not things experience love at its highest level.
Your Very Face Is My Salvation
10. So, where did a relationship like that with God come to be and where did such a relationship come to grow? The answer to that is he is able to know such a relationship based on just what he remembers from the depths of sorrow and hardship. Please see verse five [King James Version verse four]. "I pour out my soul, and I remember. [I remember] how amid voices that lifted up joyous songs of thanksgiving, we proceeded together with the flock to assemble at the festival, entered God's house, and bowed down before him." In this context he is not remembering how he was once miraculously saved by God. What he remembered was that he worshipped God as one of God's people. At the time of a major festival such as Passover there were flocks of pilgrims from all nations going to the temple at Jerusalem. While people were praising God they went up to Jerusalem. Including this psalmist, as a leader of such lines of pilgrims he offered his guidance to Jerusalem to the people and must have worshipped the Lord along with them. He is remembering here that blessed happiness when he used to be able to worship the Lord in unison as one of God's people. Therefore, when he was saying he had been seeking the life of God with his thirsty soul, in more definite terms he had been seeking as a worshipper to meet up with God.
11. A reliance upon God which is produced by signs and miracles will be lost at the same time when the signs and miracles are lost. A person who believes God on the basis of being healed of an illness or getting some trouble taken care of will probably lose that faith when new troubles turn up or perhaps when the illness relapses. Then, we understand that as for a genuine relationship with the God who makes one alive, the God of life, there is essentially no connection between him and such superficial things as whether the various problems of people with troubles or illnesses are immediately and definitely resolved or whether something in a visible form happens. Rather, it has to do with whether a person is becoming a true worshipper.
12. So, this psalm shows how a person who experiences a genuine relationship with this type of living God will surely arrive at this one place although having passed through various changes in conditions of the heart. This psalmist speaks like this to himself. "Why are you sagging? O my soul, why do you moan? Wait in hope for God. I will ever more confess, 'Your very face is my salvation.' O my God." This portion serves as a refrain. It is repeated three times in chapters forty-two and three. Why is it repeated? It is repeated because he surely arrived at that attitude.
13. "Why are you hanging your head? Why do you groan?" Those who think that hanging your head or groaning is what a person with weak faith does will condemn themselves as "unfaithful" when they get that way. If a believer is always full of confidence and ought to be full to overflowing with joy, then this psalmist may not be esteemed as a believer. Please look at this entire poem. His words lack any kind of stability and are filled with contradictions. When you think how he said in verse nine, "At day time, the Lord commands loving kindness and sends it to me; at night, the song of the Lord is with me and there is prayer to the God of my life," and then what follows is he murmurs to God, "Why did you forget me?" What you have in these [contradictory voices] is the same person.
14. But that's all right. There's nothing wrong with hanging your head. You may groan. You may hang your head without worrying about it. That's because God is alive! Faith is not the same as conviction.* The difference is how we live out the relationship with the God of life. The important thing is not anything inside the heart of the believer. Though we look like we're hanging our heads or we are groaning, there is One who we are able to look up to from the bottom of that abyss. This has a definite meaning for us. Because he is seeking that One's face so hard, he surely arrives at that same place. "O my soul, wait in hope for God." He is able to wait in hope for that time when God will manifest himself as truly God. Although it seems like he is only hanging his head or moaning, he never did lose hope.
15. Then this person makes a confession. The word translated "to confess" is a word that can also be translated as "to praise." The person who had been hanging his head and moaning arrives at praise. What is it that he is saying when he is praising God? He says, "Your very face is my salvation." This phrase can be translated various ways as well, but the New Interconfessional Version translates it truly with a deeply rich phrase. "Your very face is my salvation." This person is relating that the presence of God who is filled with loving kindness or "the very face" of God is salvation. It may seem like the situation so far has not changed in even one thing. The heavy burden may not be lifted one bit. But, as God himself shows his presence which is filled with his loving kindness, and reveals his face to us salvation is already at hand. As God is love and this loving God shows us that he is directing his face toward us, we have true salvation exactly then and there.
16. "Your very face is my salvation." This is a sentence that only a person completely seeking for God and a person who knows how to worship God is able to declare. Really now, how shall we be? Amid various hardships and sorrows what kind of words shall we end up having? I would like us to become like persons who confess along with this psalmist, "Your very face is my salvation."
Endotes: *Rev. Kiyohiro adds this note for English readers. In our polytheistic culture, many people think that it's more important how you believe than who you believe. Strong belief with confidence and conviction is likely to be called 'shinko (faith)' without regard to what he or she believes. So, generally speaking, many people make no distinction between 'shinko' and 'shinnen.' That's why I made the point in the sermon that it's more important that there is one God that we can look upon than that there is a strong conviction in our mind.