“But if God is so near,” we might ask, “why is darkness normal?” Sometimes, of course, the darkness is our own fault, as David’s was, at least in part (Psalm 40:12). God has always been near, but we have walked into the pit ourselves. Often, however, God’s people sit in darkness through no fault of their own. And in those moments, we remember that the Lord who loves us — indeed, who has loved us unto death — has some purposes that can be fashioned only at midnight.
What do you do when you have tried everything, but joy still feels far away?
You have read your Bible — silently and aloud, five verses at a time, even whole books at a time. You have pasted promises on notecards, and whiteboards, and on the back of your hand. You have gathered with God’s people, unburdened yourself to friends, searched for unrepentant sin. You have prayed — oh, have you prayed — by yourself and with others, in your room and on long walks. Perhaps, in desperation, you have gone on spiritual retreats, fasted for extended periods, heeded impressions you thought might be from God.
But still, darkness. Silence. Doubt.
Does he hear me? Does he know me? Is he there? Am I his?
Sometimes, when joy feels far away, we need to hear some simple reminders.
By simple reminders, I do not mean simplistic solutions. You may have heard your fair share of those by now — counsel from people who, though well-intentioned, assume the problem is not that bad, the solution not that difficult. “Just do x,” they say. If they only knew.
The Bible never hands us such simplistic solutions. It does, however, remind us again and again of simple truths we are prone to forget. Such truths may not lift the darkness. But they may shine out to us like stars between the clouds, reminding us there is a world of light we cannot see, strengthening us to keep walking till dawn.
In Psalm 40, King David gives four simple reminders for those whose joy feels far away: Darkness is normal. God is near. Joy is coming. Hope in him.
Darkness Is Normal
David reminds us, first, that seasons of darkness are normal for God’s people. And seasons is the right word there. Psalm 40 does not describe an afternoon’s sadness, but rather a long and stubborn darkness.
Notice, for example, the length of David’s darkness. “I waited patiently for the Lord,” he begins (Psalm 40:1). We never learn how long David sat in the shadows. We know only that, for a time, he cried to the Lord and received in return that miserable word: wait.