Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
All of us experience periods of spiritual dryness or desolation, times when God seems distant or absent altogether. And when we or others are suffering physically or emotionally, we are bound to cry out as did the author of the Psalms above. It is part of the human experience.
Yet, if there is no hope, why do we cry out, and to whom?
The absence of hope brings death. Hope in the midst of suffering can redeem it and restore life in ways we cannot begin to imagine. God is not distant or absent from our lives. If that were the case, we would simply cease to be.
This is a theologically rich topic. Acres of text stretching back to the gospels and beyond have explored this mystery, so central to the Christian faith. As Christians, we believe Christ gives our suffering - even our doubts - meaning and purpose by taking on our humanity and dying on the cross, where the Second Person of the Holy Trinity himself cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).
But it doesn't end there. Eventually, the darkness of Good Friday gives way to the light and life of Resurrection. "I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus says in John 11:25. In the words of the French poet Paul Claudel, "Jesus did not come to remove suffering, or to explain it, but to fill it with his presence" (emphasis is mine). God is with us in Christ - in Word and Sacrament, and in the life of the Church, the Body of Christ.
And he is with us in the very depths of our hearts, through which he breathes his life-giving Spirit. Every heartbeat testifies to God's abiding presence in our lives, which he created. And every cry coming from the depths of our hearts not only reaches him, but beats in unison with that Spirit within us.
The truth of the matter is that sometimes things seem so distant because they are so close. Can you appreciate a Monet with your nose pressed up against the painting? Can you see the misplaced glasses you're searching for perched atop your head? "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
And, of course, the psalms are a perfect way to pray this mystery in unison with Christ. As the Church prays at Compline in the evenings:
Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them
and show them my salvation.
- Psalm 91:14-16