Read Part 1.
Lesson #1: The trials envisioned and trust enjoined by this text are not extraordinary but normative for the covenant community.
The command to “hope” in verse three is very common throughout the Bible, especially in contexts of hardship, suffering, and persecution (e.g., Lam 3:24, 26). Thus, the Psalmist is not calling God’s people to do something extra-ordinary. He’s calling them to live a life of faith in a sin-cursed world. And that’s the kind of world we live in. As a result, trials and tragedies are not rare, but rather they are part of life (Job 5:7; 1 Peter 4:12). We may not all suffer the same trials. We may not all face the same mysteries. But sooner or later, God will bring difficulty into our life that we may not understand. Trusting God in such circumstances is what the Christian life is all about!
Lesson #2: God often intends the afflictions of one member for the good of the whole community.
In Psalm 119:71, David says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn [God’s] statutes.” But it was not only good for David’s soul. It was also good for the entire community of Israel. God afflicted David, so that David might encourage God’s people to trust in the Lord. Such was also Paul’s experience—2 Corinthians 1:4: “[God] comforts us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble.”
Who are the great teachers in the church today? Not merely those with great intellect, rhetorical ability, and eloquent voice. No, the great teachers in the church are often those who like David have gone through deep waters and who have responded with humble trust. In light of this principle, those afflicted by God should feel a degree of honor and stewardship. You may say, “But I don’t know much theology. I haven’t learned the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.” That may be true. But if you have learned to trust God even when life hurts, then you have something very valuable to teach the rest of us.
The rest of us in Israel should be ready to listen to those among us who have endured great trial. We might be tempted to think of our afflicted brethren as those God has “set-on-the-shelf.” Or worse yet, we may think of them as those God is judging for their sin” (e.g., Job’s “friends”). As a result, we might think they need to hear from us, not we from them. In some respects it may be the opposite. As we see in our Psalm, God had a message to convey to Israel, and He chose to convey that message through one of his afflicted children.
Do you know anyone who has continued to trust in the Lord through the midst of great trial? Look at their lives, listen to their words, and be motivated to trust and follow the Lord. And they don’t have be living saints. You can benefit from the books and biographies of tried saints, such as David Brainard, Henry Martin, Robert Murray McCheyne, Charles Spurgeon, Amy Carmichel, and others!
Lesson #3: According to this psalm, it is truly possible for every believer to trust God through the difficult trials of life even when he doesn’t completely understand.
David wasn’t an angel or a glorified saint. To be sure, he had a regenerated heart; but he was still a sinner—a man who may have struggled with doubts—a man who may have sometimes complained—a man who was tempted in all points as we are—yet a man who did not merely talk of the hypothetical possibility of trusting God when life hurts, but he actually calmed and quieted his soul. He came to trust in God’s wisdom and love. If David could trust God and if he exhorted all Israel to do the same, then such trust is within our reach as well. By God’s grace we can do it! With this in mind, below is some practical counsel for cultivating this kind of disposition.
First, if there is any pride in your heart, repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Perhaps you’ve been entertaining negative thoughts about God. You’ve become bitterly angry at God and demanded that He give you an answer. You’ve said things to God you’d be ashamed for others to hear. Dear friend, if you think God owes you an explanation for everything He does, you are greatly mistaken. You have the opposite spirit of David. Indeed, your disposition is contrary to the proper attitude of a Christian disciple. Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Becoming a Christian is like assuming the disposition of a little child—even the disposition of a weaned child! Therefore, I exhort you, stop demanding that God give you account for all of His dealings in your life. Repent of your pride, and ask His forgiveness. Make Job’s confession your confession: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:3, 6).
Second, learn to be content with mystery. Learning from trial and tragedy doesn’t mean God must tell you all His secret plans and purposes for your life. Instead, learning from our trials and tragedies often means learning that God is God, that we are His creatures, and that we need to trust Him. Period! “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). We must not merely affirm this truth intellectually. We must submit to it practically and experientially. Until then, we are not ready to graduate from “the School of Dark Providence.”
Third, determine, by God’s grace, to view God’s providence and your own feelings about God’s providence in the light of Scripture. When God brings trial or tragedy into your life, don’t make your own immediate feelings the judge over God’s providence. Rather, let all your thoughts and feelings about God’s dealings with you be governed by the teaching and promises of Scripture. As William Cowper artfully reminds us:
Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan God’s works in vain;
God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.
Only when we view God’s providence through the lens of Scripture will you and I be able to properly cope with tragedy when it strikes. Only then will we be able to trust God even when we do not understand. Only then will we experience the truth of Psalm 119:165:
Great peace have those who love Your law,
And nothing causes them to stumble.
Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, The Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.