How Long?

It seems like we’ve been cooped up in the house quite a bit lately. To my surprise, the term “cabin fever” is found in the dictionary. It is defined as irritability, listlessness, and similar symptoms resulting from long confinement or isolation indoors during the winter. Or, put in the form of a question, “How long before we can get outta here?!” We all have those seasons when we long for something different. It seems that it’s part of our nature to want a situation other than the one we have.

We tend to approach the Psalms as a book of praise. It does contain praise. But the book of Psalms is also a collection of questions. Many of the questions raise concerns about a timeframe.

Psalm 13:1-2 is a prime example of the sort of questions that are posed in the Psalms.
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?

It’s difficult to be certain about the historical situation that gives rise to the Psalms. Some of the Psalms are attributed to King David. It is believed that others were written during periods of captivity. Whatever the case may be, we can say that many of the Psalms express a human predicament which transcends any specific historical issue.

To state it simply, we all live with questions. The poets who penned the Psalms have questions as do the martyrs in the book of Revelation. “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6:10) In the early church, the question being asked seems to have been something like, “How long, O Lord, before you return?” In response to that mindset, Peter writes, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Pet 3:8). Interestingly, this appears to be a reference to a Psalm. “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Ps 90:4).

I believe we all have big questions which begin with, “How long…?” And oftentimes, these questions are driven by the so-called symptoms of cabin fever—irritability, listlessness, and similar symptoms. We want things to happen on our own timetable. But we must remember that God keeps time a bit differently than we do. He sees the big picture, and we trust that His timing is better than ours.

The Psalms contain many questions, but they also contain many answers. Most of the Psalms which begin with a slew of questions conclude with definitive answers. In the case of Psalm 13, David realizes that God is good, and God can be trusted. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me” (Ps 13:5-6). When we find ourselves growing impatient and longing for greener grass in life’s pastures, may we pray along with David, “I trust in your unfailing love.”