Read Psalm 44.
When I was ten, I was tried and convicted of scratching my stepfather’s new car with the exposed metal handlebar of my bike. I didn’t realize I had done it. I thought I had been careful getting my bike out of the garage. I remembered edging my bike slowly past the car, being careful not to let the two vehicles touch. But when my stepfather examined my bike, he told me that my handlebar had the paint from the fender of his car on it. I was grounded for two weeks.
Of course, I protested. No amount of physical evidence could erase a kid’s memory of being uncharacteristically careful with his bike. As the weeks of punishment ended and the months wore on, though, I just assumed I had done it, not intentionally of course. But that didn’t matter. I was guilty.
It’s happened a few times since then—not scratching cars with my bike, but being blamed for something I don’t think I really did. It’s one thing to be punished for a crime you know you committed; it’s another to be made to pay when you haven’t done anything or don’t realize you have.
Psalm 44 describes a period of great despair for God’s people. The psalmist tells the Lord, “You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations…. You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us” (vv. 11, 13). My mind begins to fill in the blanks: Israel is being punished for idolatry. God has allowed His people’s enemies to attack in order to wake them from their sin and slumber.
But that’s not what’s happening this time. “All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path” (vv. 17–18). It appears, at least to the psalmist, that the people of God are being punished for a crime they hadn’t committed. He knows that, as part of the covenant, God promised to fight for His people: “If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you” (Exodus 23:22). But He’s not. Instead, He appears to be asleep on the job: “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever” (Psalm 44:23).
These words bring to mind a time when God actually was asleep in the middle of a storm. Jesus snoozed in the stern of a fishing boat while His disciples panicked over rising waves, gale-force winds, and a sinking boat. “The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mark 4:38). Of course he cared, and in a moment the wind and waves would still themselves at His command.
Enemies attack. Storms come and go. Sometimes God steps in to protect His people, and sometimes He doesn’t. We don’t always get to know why. Like Job before us, we learn it’s not our job to question our Maker (Job 42:1–3). Our task is simply to endure with faith (Mark 4:40–41), knowing that He sees all and works all things together for good (Romans 8:28). That’s how the early church responded when their obedience to the Word of God was met with torture and martyrdom. Paul quotes Psalm 44 in relation to the suffering of the saints: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36; cf. Psalm 44:22). Sheep don’t fight their fate; they are silent when their end comes.
Even in death, God holds out the promise that a new day will come. There will be no more enemies, no more storms. The future is secure and certain, no matter what comes our way in the meantime. With our mind’s eye focused on this future and a heart filled with faith, we can sleep soundly, even as the winds howl and the waters rage. Calm is on its way.
Oh—and about a year ago, my brother admitted he was the one who scratched the car with his bike, so there’s that. He owes me for two weeks of no TV or video games.