The Sweetest Words for the Deepest Wounds
(article by Marshall Segal: staff writer, desiringGod.org)
When conflict arises in our lives, the Bible often comes alive with fresh meaning and power.
The Bible was born in conflict: from slavery in Egypt to wandering (and grumbling) in the wilderness; from living under wicked and oppressive kings to the worse horrors of invasion and exile; from the apostles being persecuted, imprisoned, and martyred to the Son of God himself being brutally crucified. We shouldn’t be surprised when Scripture feels more familiar when our circumstances feel more difficult.
God doesn’t only give us his word to carry us through our trials; he also gives us trials to open our eyes to his word. When opposition comes, or plans fall apart, or relationships fracture, or peace collapses, his words swell with unusual strength and sweetness. As the psalmist says, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalms 94:19).
When our wounds are deep, God’s healing goes deeper. When our troubles are broad, his help runs broader. When our cares are many, his consolations are more.
The Most Painful Wounds
Psalm 94 was written by and for a suffering community. God’s people were assaulted by the wicked, and then watching their assailants seem to get away with it.
O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless. (Psalm 94:3–6)
These people are evil beyond anticipation, plundering widows and murdering orphans, but the next verse may be the most haunting: “They say, ‘The Lord does not see” — using the covenant name God gave to Israel — “‘the God of Jacob does not perceive’” (Psalm 94:7). The proud, the evildoers, the murderers, the wicked — they were among God’s own people. These are not the jealous and godless enemies of Israel. They’re part of the family.
We expect wickedness from the world. The most painful attacks are often those that come from the places we least expect them: in our case, from within the household of faith. Instead of warm sympathy, we receive harsh scrutiny. Instead of rallying to support us in our time of need, they heap heavier burdens on our shoulders. Instead of help, abandonment. Instead of forgiveness, bitterness. Instead of purity and self-control, indulgence. Instead of peace, strife and conflict. Instead of patience, anger and irritability. Instead of kindness and gentleness, abuse. Instead of honesty, duplicity. Instead of love, hostility.
Where do we stand when we are wearied and wounded from within the camp? We stand on promises, like these four below, that were strong enough to hold, protect, and sustain God’s people long before our trials began.
1. God knows more than we do.
When life is especially hard, we sometimes suspect that we see more than God does. That all would be made right if only we could give him our full report, or pronounce the judgment ourselves.
Sadly, self-pity often makes us into fools:
Understand, O dullest of the people!
Fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?
He who teaches man knowledge —
the Lord — knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath. (Psalm 94:8–11)
How could we see more than God when he formed our retinas, designed our corneas, and placed our irises? How would we hear more than God when he tuned the songs of the birds, caused our vocal cords to vibrate with meaning, and planted the wonder of hearing through small holes in our heads? Whatever we see, he sees more. Whatever we have heard, he has heard more. He knows more about this situation — far more — than we do.
2. Even our worst trials are filled with his love.
The wickedness of the wicked not only serves to demonstrate God’s justice, wrath, and power, but in his unsearchable wisdom, it also serves to grow, mature, and even secure us. Even as God’s chosen people attacked their own, the psalm boldly declares, “Blessed” — happy! — “is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law, to give him rest from days of trouble” (Psalm 94:12–13). Blessed is the godly man who is mistreated, because this suffering will train him in righteousness and prepare him for a far deeper rest.
We often want to think of ourselves as victims and survivors in these situations, simply waiting for God to fall on our enemies. But God often defeats and humiliates our perpetrators in a more profound way. He makes even their worst and most wicked efforts serve his love for us. He not only gives us the victory, but he makes us “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).
When God deals finally with the wicked, he will wipe them out forever (Psalm 94:23), but when he comes to us, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). If we are his, hidden in his Son, not one ounce of our pain is punishment. Proverbs says,
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:11–12)
If we are his children, any pain we are feeling is ultimately our Father’s loving kindness meant to lead us into righteousness, peace, and joy. Even in our worst trials, when someone we love wants to do us harm, God relentlessly wields every moment, every conversation, every injustice in love for us — and not against us.
3. God will judge every offense — and right every wrong.
No matter how good and loving and sovereign God is, wrongs are still wrong. His love doesn’t make the wrong any more right. But he will eventually right every wrong. One day soon enough, “he will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the Lord our God will wipe them out” (Psalm 94:23). We won’t be left to deliver the judgment and execute the sentence. Instead of seeking retribution for ourselves, we run into the arms of a far better judge: “O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!” (Psalm 94:1–2).
The apostle Paul also knew the temptation to harbor bitterness, nurture anger, and seek revenge. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19). God will repay in full every offense committed against you. If he does not hurl your perpetrators into hell, he will have sent his Son to the cross for them. He will have been willing to die to repay any harm against you. If we doubt God’s justice when we’ve been wronged, we say that either hell itself or the cross of Christ are less than sufficient.
Therefore, as those for whom Christ died, we will not curse (Romans 12:14). We will not be proud (Romans 12:16). We will strive for peace (Romans 12:18). We will even care for those who harm us (Romans 12:20). We will overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). We will trust God to right everything done wrong against us.
4. Even when we want to give up, God will not.
When we’re under attack, especially from others who claim the name of Christ, we may want to give up and walk away. It will always be easier to opt out of conflict, out of painstaking reconciliation, out of dying for the sake of others (especially others who have hurt us). We all grow weary in relationships. But God never grows weary in loving us, and he never considers walking away.
The psalmist says, “The Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it” (Psalm 94:14–15). He will not forsake you. He will not abandon you. Justice is coming. Trust him, and follow him into the flames before you. He will not give up loving you, and he will not let you be burned.
The Lord of the universe, who planted the ear and formed the eye, who gives to all mankind life and breath and everything, who can do all things and whose purpose can never be thwarted, that God says to you,
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:2–3)
You may feel weak, fragile, and unstable for now, but God will be strong for you. You will be able to say, “When I thought, ‘My foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up” (Psalm 94:18). When conflict comes, and your soul weighs heavy, and the heartache stands tall, don’t let your Bible lie closed. Expect the words of God to hold you up like nothing else can.