There is an undeniable pattern in the Old Testament: 1. God's people rebel and reject their covenant; 2. God delivers them over to their enemies; 3. The people are struck with remorse and decide to repent, calling out to God for help; 4. God hears His people and remembers His covenant with them and rescues them; 5. God's people prosper and become complacent, soon beginning the cycle all over again.
But Psalm 44 sticks out as a sharp reminder that this pattern does not always apply.
The problem in Psalm 44 is that the people are experiencing God's absence - without having first rebelled against Him. Admittedly, this is self-reported data, as the Psalmist argues the case for the people. He begins by remembering God's deeds of old, recounted by their ancestors - how God fought on behalf of the people and won the Promised Land for them. Yet this account doesn't square with the current experiences of God's people. Instead of finding Him present with them, fighting their battles and leading them into victory, they are instead being defeated by their enemies and suffering great loss (being like "sheep for the slaughter" vs. 11 and 22). They cannot attribute this to any failing or falling on their part, so the Psalmist wants to know: Why? "Why do you sleep, O Lord? Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?" (vs. 23 and 24)
Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt lost and rejected by God - even though there was no presenting sin or fault on your part to explain why?
I remember a time in my life when I experienced those feelings. It was 20 years ago. I was 24 years old, fresh and green in the ministry, and leading a mission trip of 40 people (youth and adults) to help with flood relief efforts in Iowa. Sadly, everything that could go wrong on this trip did go wrong. I'll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that it was a very demoralizing, isolating experience. At the end of the week on a mission trip, I felt let down and abandoned by God. It was a very disconcerting feeling - after all, weren't we out there for Him, serving Him? How come we had shown up, and He hadn't?
As I processed that trip in the weeks that followed, I realized that sometimes God calls us to walk a harder path. Just because we are Christians doesn't mean we won't face obstacles and difficulties. And sometimes those obstacles and difficulties may even include an experience of God's absence for a time. This has sometimes been called "a dark night of the soul." Even Mother Theresa (Mother Theresa!) reportedly struggled with this feeling of God's absence for decades.
Is this a test of faith? Is this a way to grow God's children into maturity? Is this a result of still living in a fallen, sinful world? I'm not sure I have the answers to "why?" but I feel that we must be prepared to live a righteous life for God - whether or not the blessings follow.