How long?  It is such a human question: How long?  Well before the days of a watch-on-every-wrist and a calendar-in-every-room, that creature of time which is man has pointedly asked his Creator: How long?

 

How long? is the most frequently asked question in the Psalter.  It figures prominently in the brief but highly poetic lament which is Psalm 13, recurring four times in the space of six verses. While the repetition of How long seems at first to lead to a crescendo of despair, it is, in reality, a step on the path to a deep, strong, and even joyful trust in God.  How long reminds us that all time is God’s time.  He is the Master of every moment which comes to us from Him as a gracious gift and a precious trust.

 

How long?  It was Jesus who asked the sign-seeking, disbelieving multitude: O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?  How long am I to bear with you? (Mark 9:19)  But our Lord did not leave His How long as an expression of frustration.  With exquisite compassion, He asked the father who sought the cure of his son: How long has he had this? (Mark 9:21)  That question became a bridge to the strengthening of the father’s faith and to the healing of his afflicted child.

 

How long?  One suspects that St. Francis of Assisi experienced more than once the temptation to ask God: How long?  But the Little Poor Man turned this question into a bridge of faith when he used Psalm 13 as the Compline psalm for Advent in his devotional Office of the Passion.  Asking How long in a spirit of Advent yearning enabled St. Francis to cross into the realm of Christmas certainty. Thus Francis had every reason to rejoice in [God’s] saving help even before His Son actually “arrived on the scene.”

 

How long?  A child asks before a birthday, a patient asks awaiting release from the hospital.  How often do we ask How long when challenged by suffering, temptation or frustration?  How long? Psalm 13 puts the question into a prayer-and-faith perspective, inviting us to cross the bridge to prayer-and-faith answers.  How long, O Lord, will You forget me?  If we think about how God would answer that query, we may be startled. The answer is an emphatic NEVER, because if God forgot us, even for a moment, we would cease to exist.  Suddenly the burden of the other How longs is lifted.  God’s timing is infinitely wiser than ours. This is solace in grief and security in the press of struggle.  The little How long in which we think God hides His Face is actually the prelude to His gift of everlasting light to our eyes that we may not fall asleep in death.  Suddenly we, like the psalmist, like St. Francis, have every reason to sing and rejoice in a saving help which transcends all time.  We discover that the big question yields a better answer.  And we are able to declare in truth: I trust in [His] merciful love!




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Psalm 13

 

 

 

 

 

How long,

O Lord,

will You forget me?

How long

will You hide Your Face?

How long

must I bear grief in my soul,

this sorrow in my heart

day and night?

How long

shall my enemy prevail?

Look at me,

answer me,

Lord my God!

Give light to my eyes

lest I fall asleep

in death;

lest my enemy say:

“I have

overcome him,”

lest my foes

rejoice to see my fall.

As for me,

I trust in Your merciful love.

Let my heart rejoice

in Your saving help.

Let me sing

to the Lord

for His goodness to me,

singing psalms

to the Name

of the Lord, the Most High.

 

 

The Big Question

PART 34