“Yahweh, Yahweh, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, overflowing with loyal love and faithfulness.”
Because faithfulness (or in Hebrew, emet) is the last word used to describe God in Exodus 34:6, it has the effect of declaring that God’s character of compassion, graciousness, patience, and loyal love will endure, or be faithful, forever.
But what happens when God doesn’t appear to be faithful or worthy of being trusted?
When the kingdom of Israel collapses, and the Israelites find themselves in exile with no home and no king, they cry out, “O God, where is your loyal love that you swore to David in your faithfulness (emet)?” (Psalm 89:49). They accuse God of abandoning his promises to Abraham and David. So is God trustworthy? Is he faithful after all?
Right now, our own world is in the midst of a global pandemic, and perhaps you have been asking the same thing. Is God trustworthy? Is he faithful?
What does it look like to trust God when your world is turned upside-down by a cancer diagnosis? When someone you love is killed in a car accident? When you lose your job? When your marriage is failing? What does it look like to trust God in the midst of exile?
When we find it difficult to trust God in the darkest moments of our stories, we are invited to follow the example of the psalmists, who expressed their deepest feelings to God while in exile. In the book of Psalms, we’re invited to come to God with our pain and find hope.
Trusting God Through Pain in Psalm 88
The book of Psalms is divided into five separate books that tell one story. Books 1-3 of Psalms follow the rise and fall of the Davidic kingdom, culminating with the exile of Israel.
The people of Israel had been taken captive, their temple had been destroyed, and it seemed like God was no longer overflowing with emet. The destruction of Israel raised the question of God’s trustworthiness, faithfulness, and reliability to fulfill his promises to Abraham and to David.
At the end of the third book, we find Psalms 88 and 89. Psalm 88 is one of the darkest chapters in the book. While most laments end with a note of confidence or praise, this psalm ends in darkness. The psalmist has almost given up on God. But even in the midst of his despair, the psalmist maintains trust that God will hear his cries.
For the psalmist, the darkness is overwhelming––pain envelops his entire being. But the psalmist comes honestly before God, expressing his brokenness and despair.
O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you... For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
The psalmist alludes to Sheol, expressing that he feels dead and accusing God of being the source of his loneliness.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.
Toward the end of the psalm, the psalmist cries out to God for help.
But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O Lord, ...Why do you hide your face from me?
There is no polite pretense here. The psalmist comes before God with raw emotion and honesty, offering to God his questions, anger, confusion, and pain.
Trusting God Through Remembrance in Psalm 89
In Psalm 89, the psalmist reflects on the promise of faithfulness from God and the perceived failure of that faithfulness. The first half of the psalm recounts God’s khesed and emet, remembering and recalling his faithfulness (emunah) shown in the covenant he made to David.
I will sing of the steadfast love (khesed) of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness (emunah) to all generations. For I said, “Khesed will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your emunah. You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’”
But later in this psalm, the poet accuses God of violating these very promises that he’d made to Israel (vv. 38-45) and describes the desolation of Israel (vv. 40-45).
You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
When the psalmist cries out to God in these psalms, he’s expressing hope that God hears and does what is right. This hope is still an act of trust, even within the psalmist’s anger and pain.
While Book 3 of Psalms closes on this painful note, Book 4 develops the theme of trusting Yahweh as the true King, even when there is no human king on the throne. Psalm 90 is the only psalm titled as "A Psalm of Moses." In other words, before God's promise to David, before Israel ever had a king, Yahweh was Israel's King. It’s a call to remember that wherever the people of Israel find themselves, whatever situation they are in, Yahweh is still with them.
Trusting God in Exile
Though the people in exile did not live to see it, God fulfills his promises to Abraham and David. We see evidence of this on the first pages of the New Testament. The Gospel according to Matthew begins like this:
This is the genealogy [or the lineage] of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
What the Gospel writer is claiming is that Jesus is the promised king to come, who will unite all people to become a part of Abraham’s family. All nations are invited into a trusting relationship with Jesus. In other words, God’s faithfulness to his people is accomplished through Jesus.
So is God trustworthy? Is he faithful after all?
When we find it difficult to trust God in the darkest moments of our stories, we are invited to follow the example of the psalmists in exile. We too can come to God with our despair, questions, anger, and confusion. We don’t have to pretend to be at peace when we’re not. God is not angry at us for asking "why?" He is not annoyed by our tears. We can trust God with our broken pieces.
And as the psalmist in Psalms 89-90 shows us, in the midst of our pain, we can remember. We can recall the works, character, and promises of God. We can trace his faithfulness in our lives. We can remember how he has been trustworthy—a reliable, steadfast, and unchanging rock. And in these psalms, we see that “crying out” is an example of trust.
For the psalmist, his hope was in the promised future king. And that king has come. The faithfulness of God was ultimately embodied in Jesus. And because of Jesus, we can, as the psalmist did, look forward with future hope. We can look to the day when Jesus’ Kingdom will be fully realized in the reuniting of Heaven and Earth.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”