Forgotten By A Faithful God
In the October of 1898, Theodore Roosevelt was one of the brightest rising stars of New York state politics. Just two months before, he had returned to Long Island as a war hero, having led the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (the “Rough Riders”) to spectacular victory in the Spanish-American War, and now the Republican party was hoping he would lead them to another victory by taking the Governor’s mansion in November. So Teddy enlisted a few of his Rough Rider friends and set off on a whistle-stop tour of the state, making hundreds of campaign speeches from the back of his train carriage. When the train came through Port Jervis, Teddy asked one of his men, Sgt. Buck Taylor, to introduce him. As the gathered reporters hastily scribbled down his every word, the sergeant poured out his heart to the crowd:
“I want to talk to you about mah Colonel. He kept ev’y promise he made to us and he will to you. He told us we might meet wounds and death, and we done it, but he was thar in the midst of us, and when it came to the great day he led us up San Juan Hill like sheep to the slaughter and so he will lead you!”
If only today’s politicians would be so honest in their campaigns! We even have a name for the kind of breezy dishonesty that pervades our politics: “Campaign promises!” They know they’re going to break their promises, we know they’re going to break them—they may as well just come clean about the fact that they’re going to betray the trust we put in them!
Now, it may feel uncomfortable to make this comparison, but I believe this is where our psalm today is taking us: How many times have you felt that all God’s promises to you were just “campaign promises?” That you trusted Him to care for you, but your circumstances make it feel an awful lot like He has forgotten you.
You have not wandered away from Him, you are not flirting with sin or disobedience, you’re leaning on Him and not on your own strength. But instead of responding with faithfulness, it seems like He is leaving you to twist in the wind.
A friend of mine who has spent thirty years ministering and living in South Asia, pouring his whole life into the people there, was recently denied re-entry into the country. He is sixty-two years old—he’s lived there for most of his life, and now his whole life and ministry has been taken away from him. (Some of his friends had postponed their daughter’s graduation party for months so that he could be there for it, and now he never will!) In his recent prayer letter, he wondered why God would pull the rug out from under him like this? Thirty years of faithful Gospel service, gone with the wind.
Have you had that happen to you? You have been as faithful to God as you know how to be, but it feels like He isn’t being faithful to you? Your kids return your faithful love and sacrifice with scorn and selfishness, your boss takes advantage of your integrity and honesty by giving you all the work that no one else wants to do, you step out in faith and follow God’s call to a new ministry or avenue of service, and the people you’re supposed to be partnering with greet you with distrust and apathy. You’re trusting God, leaning on Him, seeking Him in prayer and worship, and in return it seems like He is leading you like “sheep to the slaughter.”
That’s the question the psalmist is struggling with here in Psalm 44:
What are we to do when what we know about God (His faithfulness) conflicts with what we experience of Him (that He has forgotten us)?
Look, for instance, starting in verse 17:
17 All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. 18 Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; 19 yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death. 20 If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, 21 would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart. 22 Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
Why does God sometimes meet our faithfulness with silence? Why does He seem to turn His face away from us when we have been seeking His face with everything in us? What I want to show you this morning from this psalm is that God’s forgetfulness does not mean faithlessness, but that:
God’s “faithful forgetfulness” is a precious path to our Christlikeness.
Look with me at the way the psalmist lays out his plea. First, he sings of how
I. We Remember God (Verses 1-8)
I. We Remember God (Verses 1-8)
Look at verses 1-4:
1 O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old: 2 you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted; you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free; 3 for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them. 4 You are my King, O God; ordain salvation for Jacob!
He says, “God, you have been faithful! You have delivered us, you have fought for us, you have delighted in us! We know that you are a faithful God!” The psalmist sings that
God has been faithful to defend, deliver and delight in His people
And then he goes on to express his deep and unreserved faith in God in verses 5-8:
5 Through you we push down our foes; through your name we tread down those who rise up against us. 6 For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me. 7 But you have saved us from our foes and have put to shame those who hate us. 8 In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever. Selah
That word, Selah, at the end of verse 8, is the psalmist’s invitation to pause and consider what he has just sung. He really wants us to get the point that he is trusting in God. It’s not about him or his own strength or his own goodness—it is about God! If he had written this psalm a couple thousand years later, he might very well have ended this section with the Latin phrase Soli Deo Gloria!—the cry of the Reformation, “Glory to God alone!”
The psalmist shows a deep and genuine trust in the faithfulness of God.
But then in verse 9, how does God respond to the Psalmist’s full-throated cry of faith in Him?
II. God Forgets Us (Verses 9-16)
II. God Forgets Us (Verses 9-16)
Look at verses 9-10:
9 But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies. 10 You have made us turn back from the foe, and those who hate us have gotten spoil.
It seems as though God has forgotten any of His past faithfulness to the psalmist, doesn’t it?
Instead of defending him from his enemies, God is delivering him up to them
Look at verses 11-12:
11 You have made us like sheep for slaughter and have scattered us among the nations. 12 You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them.
He goes on to say that God has “made us a byword among the nations and a laughingstock among the peoples” (v. 14), and that he is continually disgraced and embarrassed before the taunts and revilings of his enemies (vv. 15-16). And you can hear the anguish in his voice as he goes in in verses 17-19:
17 All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. 18 Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; 19 yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death.
“God, why are You doing this?? We haven’t betrayed You, or forgotten Your Name (v. 20)—so why have You forgotten us??” Verse 24:
24 Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
He hasn’t forgotten God, but it seems like God has forgotten him! By the end of the psalm,
All the psalmist can do is stake his hope on God’s unbreakable promises to love him.
26 Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!
As we’ve seen in the past few weeks, the psalmist doesn’t just listen to himself: (“God has forgotten you, He doesn’t keep His promises—He’s turned against you; you’re on your own!”) He preaches to himself: “God cannot break His promises to His people!” Notice in Verse 23, he cries out
23 Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Once again, see how he calls on God as YHWH, as if to say, “You are the God of the Covenant—you cannot break your promises to Your people! Whatever is going on right now that makes it seem as though your love for me has failed, I know it cannot be true! You are YHWH, and you will never let your covenant love for me fall!”
The psalmist is clinging to what he knows about God—that God may seem “forgetful”, but it is faithful forgetfulness!
III. God’s Faithful Forgetfulness
III. God’s Faithful Forgetfulness
God is not abandoning him because He has stopped loving him—He is sending this turmoil and trouble and scorn and isolation and hardship his way because He loves him! This sense of abandonment the psalmist is experiencing (and that we experience from time to time as well) is not a sign that God’s love has failed. Instead,
This apparent forgetfulness on God’s part is not a failure of His faithfulness, but is in fact another expression of His faithfulness
We see this clearly when we set Psalm 44 up against the one place that it is quoted in the New Testament. Turn with me to Romans 8 (p. 945). Paul is talking about the steadfast love of Christ for us that will hold us through any trial. Look starting in verse 35:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Consider this: When the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wanted to quote a Scripture that proved his point that nothing would ever cause God to turn His love away from His people, where did he turn? To Psalm 44! Paul says, “Yes, there are times when you walk through such a dark place that it seems like God’s love has failed you. You can go through such times of hardship, misery, scorn, abuse, hatred, loneliness and pain that you begin to wonder if God has turned against you, and is sending you to the slaughterhouse. But that is not a sign that His love has failed! Because nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus!
Beloved, never forget that:
In Jesus we have the ultimate example of God’s “faithful forgetfulness”
Isaiah writes that:
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
Jesus Himself was “led like a lamb to the slaughter”—utterly innocent, utterly faithful to His Father, yet He was “cut off out of the land of the living”, taken away, “crushed” and “put to grief” (Isa. 53:10).
But did God really forget Him? Did He abandon His soul to the grave and leave Him in the tomb? No—He raised Him to life again! When He “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross”, what happened next?
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
God’s “faithful forgetfulness” does not end in death, but in resurrection
Christian, here is your hope when you feel like God has abandoned you, when He has turned His face away from your plight, when all of His words of faithfulness sound like empty campaign promises! When you experience the “forgetfulness of God” in those times of darkness and isolation —you are experiencing the same darkness Jesus did. You are walking in His steps when you are “killed all the day long; regarded as sheep to be slaughtered!”
The times when we experience the “faithful forgetfulness of God” are
IV. Our Path to Christlikeness
IV. Our Path to Christlikeness
Look at what the Scripture says. Romans 6 (p. 942):
4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
When you place your trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, you die with Him to sin, and then you are raised to new life. The story of your salvation is the story of death and resurrection.
And when we look through the New Testament, we see that same pattern—death and resurrection—marks our daily Christian life as well. Turn with me to Philippians 3 (p. 981). Paul is talking about his every day life as a Christian, that he considers everything as “loss” for the sake of knowing Christ. Then he goes on in verses 10-11:
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Do you see it? “that I may share in His sufferings”—share in being led like a lamb to the slaughter, share in the darkness, loneliness and abandonment of God’s “faithful forgetfulness”, so that by any means possible I may attain to the resurrection of the dead!” The “death” of God’s forgetfulness is followed by the resurrection of His glory!
Paul says he wants to know Jesus in the power of His resurrection. But
Before you can experience the power of the resurrection, you have to die
As one author puts it:
“Jesus will not be known abstractly, from a distance. We must enter His life—both the dying and the rising… Death is never the last word, the resurrection power of the Spirit of Jesus always wins the day for His people.” (Paul E. Miller)
When we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His!
And when you grasp this—when you see that this dynamic of death and resurrection is not just a one-time event in your salvation; it is your daily experience in Christ—it transforms your experience of our suffering! You are taken out of your own story and placed into His! Every time you face the “faithful forgetfulness of God” in disappointment, or hardship, or struggle, you can say, “God thank you for the opportunity to experience what Jesus did! Thank you that I can participate in His death in this small way!”
When your hard work and sacrifice and blood, sweat and tears on behalf of others is met with indifference, ingratitude or scorn, you can say, “Thank you, God, for your faithful forgetfulness! Thank you for letting me taste just the smallest part of the way Jesus sacrificed Himself for people even when they scorned Him! Show me how to be more like Him!” And instead of responding to their ingratitude and scorn with anger and frustration, you can serve cheerfully, because you just got to know Jesus better by experiencing what He did!
When you experience the “death” of your own plans and hopes and dreams falling to the ground—what you wanted to be, what you wanted to accomplish with your life is dead and gone, and you don’t know what is coming next—remember your Savior, sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane, crying out in His anguish, “Not my will, but yours be done!” (Luke22:42) And in your anxiety and loss, you have just the merest shadow of living the life of Christ in that moment!
When you are called upon to give up your time, your effort, your comfort and security—another sleepless night with a sick child, or your first quiet evening at home for weeks disrupted by an emergency phone call that sends you off and running until the wee hours, or another family holiday cancelled because of the needs of an aging parent, that extra money you’ve been saving for a special vacation that winds up paying for your spouse’s uninsured medical expense—this isn’t God “forgetting about you”. This is God inviting you into the sacrificial life of Christ! You get to walk in Jesus’ footsteps—the one who left His throne in Heaven and turned His back on His glory and splendor and riches to come to this pitiful ball of clay to give Himself for the people that He loved! And He gives you the privilege of imitating your Savior for the sake of others, to show them the kind of love He showed you!
In Jesus Christ, every death is followed by a resurrection
There is no death that you can suffer in this life—no death of your ambitions, no death of your comforts, no death of your desires—that will not be attended by the resurrection power of the Spirit of Jesus in your life! His “faithful forgetfulness” is your precious path to Christlikeness—to resurrect your ambitions and desires and plans to conform more closely to His will, to fit you more finely to the comfort and joy and peace that He pours into you by His Spirit, to allow you the infinitely precious privilege of spending yourself for others so that they see their Savior’s love through your sacrifice!
He is leading you, through His faithful forgetfulness, through a life with Him that goes down into death and up to resurrection every day, until that day when you awake in His presence and your resurrection into His likeness is complete, when you hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Savior, Jesus Christ!”
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
Where have you seen God’s faithfulness to you in the past? How does that give you confidence that He has not forgotten you when you face disappointment and loss?
What hardships are you currently facing that tempt you to believe that God has forgotten you? How do those hardships invite you into the sufferings of Christ?
Where can you look back in your life and see the ways God has “resurrected” your life out of the disappointments and losses of your past? How has He used those past “deaths” to equip you and empower you to know Him better and serve others more fully?