Picture David laying prostrate before God in a dank, dark cave, the sweat of suffering coating his brow, as he cries out for comfort and deliverance from his enemies, who hotly pursue him.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
Before the Lord, David pours out his frustration and distress, unsure if he will see the light of another day. In his isolation, as he hides himself from the ruthless King Saul, thoughts of defeat torment him—maybe God has hidden his face and will not help.
Yet, something beautiful is happening in David’s soul during this seemingly torturous scene in the cave. Rather than rejecting God and despairing of life, his sufferings drive him to the throne of the only One who can save to the uttermost.
What made the difference?
Coming to the End of Yourself
Try to recall the last time suffering brought you to the end of yourself. Like David, you may have felt completely alone, rejected by God and abandoned to the darkness of your torment. Perhaps taking counsel in your soul only led to a deepening sorrow in your heart, as the question, “How long, O Lord?” filled your prayers.
Suffering brings us to the end of ourselves—our strength, our resources, our comfort, our understanding and wisdom, our plans and control, our attempts at righteousness—and drives us to the One whose very being is endless. Limitation and weakness run against the grain of human nature, as we seek for strength and self-sufficiency, but they fit perfectly into God’s gracious salvation plan. For it is only when we are bowed low before God in humility that we are exactly where he wants us to be—powerless to help ourselves and dependent upon him.
David has come to the end of himself and is literally at a dead-end in the cave. But the end of David’s self-sufficiency means the strengthening of God’s gospel-work within him.
Drawn to the Strength of God
Friend, the road to powerlessness is never an easy one because it goes against what our flesh wants and what our world values. But humbling ourselves before God in suffering—though far from easy—is highly glorifying to him. By God’s grace in his life, this is precisely what happened for David. His suffering draws him to God, rather than driving him from God.
But how? What did this look like?
David drew nearer to God in his suffering, rather than rejecting him, for two reasons: He understood God’s salvation plan, and he trusted God’s love for him.
Let suffering draw you to God’s salvation plan.
David’s first plea is for God to answer his prayer for protection from his enemies—but his request seems to be more than simply this. David prays, “Light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.” The word “lest” implies that David is hoping to prevent death and defeat through the lighting up of his eyes…but how would the light prevent his death? Shouldn’t he pray for God to bulk up his muscles, so he can defend himself, or for a shield and sword?
What does David mean when he prays, “Light up my eyes”?
Psalm 27:1 gives us our answer: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” In asking God to light up his eyes, David is praying for more than bodily protection, though that is a needful request. He is pleading with God to sustain his faith in suffering.
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. (vv. 3,4, emphasis mine)
Throughout Scripture, the light of the Lord implies hope and life eternal (Job 33:28; Psalm 18:28; Psalm 36:9; Matthew 4:16; John 8:12; Acts 13:47). David knows that with intense suffering comes the temptation to distrust God’s abilities, purposes, and character, the ultimate display of falling into that temptation being unbelief and rejection. Unless God lights up his eyes to the hope of his salvation, David will perish in this sleep of death. And if this were to happen, the adversary of his soul would prevail over him because his faith would be shaken.
In the darkness of your suffering, God has provided you the reason to cling to him: Jesus Christ, the light, shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome him. When we have trusted Christ for our ultimate salvation, suffering leads us not to despair, but to the One who went through death for us so we would never perish. View suffering as a means to cling to your light and life, your salvation in Christ your Lord.
Let suffering draw you to God’s steadfast love.
The other reason that David’s suffering doesn’t cause him to reject God is because he trusts his steadfast love:
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (vv. 5,6)
We see here how God’s gift of salvation changes the very face of suffering for those in his care. David says, “I am thankful because you have saved my soul. And by saving my soul, you have shown me the faithfulness of your love to make good of everything else that comes my way.” By trusting in God’s steadfast love, David is able to praise him in the darkness of the cave. His questions and concerns draw him to the God whose ultimate answer to suffering, even death, is “life!”
We too have seen the love of God revealed through the death and resurrection of his Son: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). When you are surrounded by darkness, and you begin to question God’s love for you, remember that Jesus Christ was sent into the world because God loves you. The true light took on human flesh, suffered the affliction of God’s wrath on the cross, and rose to new life in triumph over sin and death; so you can trust his work for your good in everything.
Even the gravest of our earthly sufferings, which may lead to death, result in eternal life with Christ. So when affliction comes, let us draw nearer to our Lord, rather than being driven from him, because in him our true light and life is found.