I think if we are honest with ourselves, there are circumstances in life that bring us to a place of frustration with God. We know in the back of our minds that we love Him, but we really struggle with liking Him and His decisions. This concept is not foreign to most of us, especially if we have children. We as parents love our kids, but their behavior causes us to not like them at times. The same is true in most relationships that humans engage in. The dislike for God is often brought about by a mind of confusion, hurt, disappointment, or fear. We struggle to see God’s hand working for our good, even though He promised that He would in Romans 8:28. Instead, we see everything in life working for our bad. The conflict begins to weigh down our hearts as we begin to wrestle with the question of, “How can I love the Lord with all my heart when I don’t even like Him at the moment?”
Is the imperative of Deuteronomy 6:5 to love God, that is repeated throughout the New Testament (Mark 12:30; Matt. 22:37; Luke 10:27), an imperative only when it is convenient? How can I love God with all my heart when sections of my heart are discontent with Him? These are the types of questions I want to examine in this article. The Psalms are full of stories where the writers pursued God out of love only to dislike the direction. For the sake of time, we will only examine Psalm 44. The Psalmist expresses his desire to see God work in his day, as He did in the days of his forefathers (Ps. 44:1-3). In his eagerness to serve and love the same God of his forefathers, the Psalmist acknowledges the nation had honored God as their King and only trusted in Him (Ps. 44:4-8). Here we see a desirable start to a people who were eager to see God work and eager to serve Him. However, the result of loving, serving, and trusting God did not lead them to their desired end.
Notice the words of verse 9, “But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies.” He accuses God of letting their enemies win (Ps. 44:10), making them like sheep for the slaughter (Ps. 44:11), and has given the enemies a reason to make a mockery out of Him and their nation (Ps. 44:12-16). One would think that these people must have really done something wrong. They must have committed some terrible evil! Well, the truth is that’s not what happened at all. The Psalmist describes their lives as being obedient and faithful to Him (Ps. 44:17-18). Yet, the result was a feeling of God breaking them as “in the place of jackals” and covering them “with the shadow of death. (Ps. 44:19)” The place of jackals is an illustration of a place of desert and desolation. The Psalmist is saying, “you’ve left us in a place of desolation and death.” Have you ever felt that way before? You follow God out of love and obedience and it has led you to a place of desolation and death? What is the next move when we are in this place? How can we continue to love God with all our hearts or even like Him in these moments?
It should be noted that in the midst of the Psalmist venting to God, not every feeling he is experiencing is reality. God did not abandon or reject them. However, the problems they faced were real, along with the struggle. The Psalmist takes a moment to reflect on their sin to see if it has contributed to this problem. He evaluates the problem by acknowledging if they had bowed to a false god. If this were true, God would have discovered it because He knows the secrets of the heart (Ps. 44:21). So the writer concludes in verse 22, “Yet, for your sake, we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” It is very important that we do not miss the opening phrase “Yet, for your sake.” Meaning, it is on Your account and for Your cause, we are in this place of despair. Also, notice how often this takes place, “all the day long.” It is not a single defeat, but a continual slaughter. It makes perfect sense that Paul would use this verse later when describing the suffering believers go through in Romans 8:36. Paul was contending nothing can separate a believer from the love of God even if this event takes place. This is an interesting scene between the Psalmist and Paul. The Psalmist is questioning God’s love and Paul isn’t even entertaining the idea of it. In fact, he is expelling any ideology that would question it. Is there a contradiction here? Not at all! Paul was writing from a theological reality; whereas the Psalmist was writing from human perception.
So where does this leave us? How can we continue to obey God out of a heart that loves Him when we are struggling to like Him and understand His plans? The Psalmist moves to a state of pleading in verse 23. He cries out, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?” He’s pleading with God to leave the state of sleep and become real in their dilemma. He no longer wants to feel rejected, hidden from, or forgotten (Ps. 44:23-24). Instead of trying to figure everything out and choosing to abandon God altogether, the Psalmist runs to desperate prayer. In verse 25 he says, “Our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground.” The soul (heart) was taken to a place of brokenness and humility rather than bitterness and abandonment. Because He still loved God, he didn’t run from Him, he ran to Him. Perhaps, this is where God wants us to be in this type of struggle. Our soul becomes desperate for God to work and we are brought to complete emptiness and humility. Even the body followed the posture of the soul. He said, “Our belly clings to the ground.” They physically bowed themselves to the ground in a state of desperate prayer.
It is clear that the Psalmist is struggling to “like” God and what He is doing in their crisis. However, this act of pleading and humility is proof that he still loved God. He even asked God to help and redeem them for the sake of His steadfast love for them! He is basically saying, “let our relationship of love mean something!” God’s love is greater than any love we could reciprocate toward Him. Since His love is the best, we plead for Him to move on our behalf, not because of our love, but His. That is exactly what the Psalmist did in Psalm 44. How can we love God when we are struggling to like Him? We go to desperate and humble prayer pleading on behalf of His love for us, rather than pleading on behalf of our love for Him. The truth is we cannot love Him with all of our heart until we first take in His love for us. Even the Apostle John acknowledged this truth in 1 John 4:19, “We love Him because He first loved us.” I do not see a commandment to “like the Lord with all your heart” anywhere in scripture. Although this is ideal, humanly speaking, this will not be true in every season of life. It is in these moments, we must come in humility and brokenness pleading on behalf of His love for us, as the Psalmist did.
Stephen Boyce Th.D.