When we usually hear the words For God’s Sake, the context is not heavenly in focus. Most people who speak the phrase are in a perturbed state of mind. Somebody is annoying them. Finally, they demand “For God’s sake, will you ______?” The blank can be filled with “shut up”, “sit down” or any directive that halts the annoying behavior. Curse words might even be added for emphasis.
In these cases the invocation of deity is not evidence of a theological sensibility. The speaker isn’t talking about what is best for God. They are talking about what is best for them. A more accurate demand to annoying behavior would be, “For the sake of my sanity, will you shut up?” We can even shorten that, “For MY sake, will you shut up?”
Why do we change the words? I guess part of the reason is that we are playing the God trump card. “You may not be interested in what is best for me, but surely you don’t want to annoy God.” That is the God trump card.
I think the best explanation is that once upon a time “For God’s sake” was actually a meaningful phrase for people. It could be used to appeal to self and others to be mindful of the person and purposes of God as related to our actions.
In Psalm 44, the psalmist employs the “For God’s sake” usage twice. The first time it is used, we are actually shocked by the text.
Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long:
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
–Psalm 44:22 ESV
You are probably thinking, “Ok, this must be one of those verses that requires special interpretation.” So let’s set the context a bit. The psalm begins with a prayer that recalls the mighty deeds of God in the past. The first verse and a half makes this seem like this will be a psalm of praise and triumph.
O God, we have heard with our ears,
our fathers have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
in the days of old:
you with your own hand drove out the nations,
–Psalm 44:1-2 ESV
Amen! Hallelujah! God has a history of driving out our enemies and giving us land flowing with milk and honey. But wait. The next line does not seem to fit.
but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
but them you set free;
Make sure you get the pronouns correct. Them (the enemies) you planted. You afflicted the peoples (us – the good guys). Them (the enemies) you set free.
As God’s people followed God into possessing the promised land, they faced hostile enemies. From where did they come? God planted them there. When the enemies harassed, attacked and even killed some of God’s people, where did they get that strength? God afflicted the peoples. When some of the enemies avoided death, how did they escape? God set them free.
Years later, the psalmist and the rest of God’s people are again facing evil enemies. Times are tough. Psalm 44 makes it clear that times are not tough because God’s people have been disobedient or evil. But they are suffering nonetheless.
That question leads us back to verse 22, “For your (God’s) sake.” We are the sheep, not the shepherds. Jesus as “the Lamb of God” would be slaughtered for God’s sake. Do you recall Jesus praying that if it were possible the cup (of slaughter) he would not have to drink? But his prayer ended with subjecting his will to that of the Father. For God’s sake, not for his.
As sheep we can do no other than what Jesus did. If it benefits God, we are to be killed all the day long. If it pleases God and all he plans, we are as sheep to be slaughtered.
This does not seem to be a psalm of hope, does it? Look to the final verse of the psalm.
Ruse up; come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!
–Psalm 44:26 ESV
The psalmist does not ask for God’s help only because he want the suffering to be alleviated. His prayer of help is a “For God’s sake” prayer. Don’t help us only because we need help. Help us because in helping us, you will be true to your character as a God of steadfast love. You will be honored and worshipped as a God of deliverance. You will be revered as a God who acts justly in punishing evil doers.
In our prayers, we often run straight to the second “For God’s sake” in this psalm. We pray for deliverance and ease. The problem is that we cannot fully grasp nor realize this kind of deliverance until we first can recognize God’s glory and majesty in our suffering and hardship.
Resurrection after crucifixion.
Life after death.
Today you might encounter sorrow or you might experience joy. Either way, let your prayer and actions reflect that you will think and act in whatever circumstance FOR GOD’S SAKE.