Do the Psalms and Prophets disagree with God?

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on

One thing you’ve probably heard me say frequently is that we need to let God’s Word disagree with us.  In a recent discussion I explained that this is one of the key reasons why I hold to Biblical inerrancy.[1] The comeback to this was that I was imposing an authoritarian understanding of Scripture that neglected the Psalms and prophets. If I bothered to read those parts of Scriptures then I would see that the authors regularly disagreed with God.

Sadly when I asked the person concerned if they could talk me through some examples they refused. And started to accuse me of being unwilling to have an open conversation -and of wanting them to do my research for me. It seems that they didn’t know the difference between debate and research. But further, I suspect that they may well have realised that the evidence wouldn’t in fact back up their claims. Because …. Well let’s take a look.

There are a number of examples where the Psalmist lifts up a plea, a complaint to God, it seems that they disagree with him.  These often come in the form of the question “How long…” A good example would be Psalm 13, it opens with the plea:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain[a] in my soul,
    and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted?

Psalm 13:1-2

This may be seen as the author disagreeing with God.  He sees God as absent, he protests because he disagrees with what God is doing and the timing of God’s actions.  However, something changes in the Psalm. There is a further plea for God to answer him and then the language and mood shifts dramatically.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me

Psalm 13:5-6

There is a shift from complaint and plea to total trust. What has happened there. Well, I want to suggest that we are seeing God at work to change the Psalmist’s perspective. Does he disagree with God, well of course he does, if God’s Word disagrees with me then by implication I’ve disagreed with God and the beginning of the conversation may well be me bringing my argument/disagreement/complaint to him. The point of allowing God’s Word to disagree with you is not the start of the conversation where I’m disagreeing. It’s the end where my will must come into line with God’s.

We may also look to Job 38 where God speaks to challenge the counsel of Job’s comforters and to answer Job too.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man. I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.

Job 38:1-4

Outside of wisdom literature, if we want to consider the way that the prophets engaged with God, then a helpful example might be Habbakuk. The prophecy takes the form of a conversation with God in the same kind of style as Psalm 13. The prophet sets out his plea before God. Why does God wait? Why doesn’t he act. However, here, the gaps are filled in. The implicit words of God in Psalm 13 are made explicit here.

So Habakkuk says:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
    and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
    therefore judgement comes forth perverted.

Habakkuk 1:1-4

Then God responds

Look at the nations, and see!
    Be astonished! Be astounded!
For a work is being done in your days
    that you would not believe if you were told.
For I am rousing the Chaldeans,
    that fierce and impetuous nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth
    to seize dwellings not their own.

Habakkuk 1:5-6

There’s a double whammy there. First, God responds to disagree with Habakkuk, he isn’t inactive, he isn’t failing to listen.  Second, he is acting in a way that will surprise, shock and disturb Habakkuk, the very thing that the prophet dreads is the very way in which Go chooses to act. 

Habakkuk’s response to God disagreeing with him is found in 2:20

But the Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth keep silence before him!

And with this concluding prayer, a willingness to trust in God even when things are not as he would want them to be.

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
    and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
    and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
    and there is no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will exult in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    and makes me tread upon the heights.

Habakkuk 3:7-19

Allowing God to disagree with us doesn’t preclude our side of the conversation where we start by expressing our disagreement but it must lead to the point where we stop to hear God, where we are silent before him and where he challenges and corrects us. It is clear that the Psalmists and Prophets were willing and ready to let God disagree with them.

[1] I owe this crucial instruction to Mike Ovey who would frequently point out that a friend who never disagrees with you may well be imaginary and then challenge us “will you let God’s Word disagree with you?”

%d bloggers like this: