Some psalms are more difficult than others to come to grips with. For various reasons, Psalm 60 is one of the more difficult ones. The major thrust of the psalm, however, seems clear enough.

David wrote this prayer at a time when Israel had apparently experienced a significant military defeat. He interpreted this defeat as God’s disfavour toward him and his people. God had “rejected” them and “broken” their “defences.” He had shaken the earth beneath their feet and had caused his people to stagger like drunkards before their enemies (vv. 1–3). God, he felt, was responsible for whatever loss they had experienced.

At the same time, there was hope of deliverance. God was willing to deliver those who would flee to him and to give them salvation in answer to their prayers (vv. 4–5). While it seemed as if Yahweh had rejected his people, David knew that he was still committed to his inheritance (vv. 6–8).

He feared the worst but knew that his fears were irrational and so he appealed for divine help. God had seemingly rejected them, but he was at the same time their only hope of deliverance (vv. 9–12). David thus expressed his fears and asked God to help him overcome those fears.

The question before us in the psalm is simply this: How do we respond when it appears as if God has forsaken us? You probably know the feeling. Circumstances overwhelm you. Ministry stagnates. Friends become enemies. And you ask yourself why. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem fair.

When we wonder why God has rejected us (even if we know that that thought is irrational), how should we think? What causes Christians to feel as if God has forsaken them?

On the one hand, our experiences of divine withdrawal might be the result of sinful failure on our part. Adam and Eve were driven from God’s presence because of their own sin. Achan’s sin at Ai resulted in divine withdrawal from Israel. When Samson violated his Nazirite vow, God withdrew, even though he did not know it. In these (and many other) example, God withdrew his presence because of his people’s sin. That still happens today. Your sense of isolation may well be your own fault.

On the other hand, God’s withdrawal sometimes has nothing to do with our sin but is meant instead to teach us a lesson. Job wondered time and again why God was seemingly silent. He wondered why God was allowing affliction after affliction to strike when, as far as he could tell (and this is confirmed by the writer), there was no fault on his part. Sometimes withdrawal has nothing to do with our sin and everything to do with the lessons God wants to teach us. Sometimes, divine distance teaches us far more than God stepping in to deliver us. Silence has a way of teaching us our need for God in a way that deliverance never will.

Ultimately, however, we need to learn that, whatever the reason for God’s silence and seeming rejection, only he can restore our hope. “Oh, grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man!” (v. 11). Our friends and family and fellow church members are certainly able to help in times of distress, but if we do not ultimately look to the Lord, we will find only vain salvation.

As we had into a new day, let us look to the Lord for our hope and our salvation. As we do, “with God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.”