Frustration mounts in prayer when it seems that God does not hear, or prayer. If one prays concerning persecution of Christians in a nation, or prays for relief from economic or other social injustice, he or she may want to surrender if persecution and injustice continue to flourish. Psalm 10 contains a prayer of lament and frustration to God concerning bullies who harm the helpless and torment those who are vulnerable to attack. The prayer begins with an accusation that God has excused himself from the discussion:
“Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
The prayer continues by describing the arrogance of the person who pursues the poor, ambushing the helpless and murdering the innocent. But, the prayer also offers insight into the thought process of the persecutor: He acts as he does because he believes there is no God. That is why he does not seek God. That is why he abuses the weak in society with impunity. He does not believe that God will hold him accountable for his actions, because, quite simply, he does not believe in God. Even when he may consider that God exists, he brushes the possibility of accountability aside,
“He says in his hear, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it” (verse 11).
The abuser answers the afflicted person’s question from verse one with an emphatic “Yes! God has hidden himself!” The wicked man, if he prays, says to God, “You will not call to account” (verse 13).
The situation appears grim for the afflicted victim. But the prayer of Psalm 10 voices confidence in God despite his apparent absence. He prays,
“Arise, O LORD, O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted… you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands, to you the helpless commits himself you have been the helper of the helpless” (verses 12, 14-15).
He prays that God will avenge the afflicted, the innocent, and the helpless. The prayer concludes with recognition of God’s glory and power as ruler of Creation. The prayer acknowledges the justice of God and God’s desire to end terror that oppresses “the fatherless and the oppressed.”
Acts of terror in our own time stem from a sense of frustration that God has overlooked injustice and that one must take vengeance into his or her own hands, or from a calloused belief that God will not protect inferior beings that the terrorist attacks. Both approaches equal practical atheism, making radical decisions as if God either does not exist, or will not avenge the victims of the act of terror. As we pray, recoiling in horror as murderers drive vehicles into crowds or shoot worshipers at churches, we must remember the concluding words of Psalm 10:
“O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more” (verses 17-18).
All biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.