Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen –
you led your people like a flock by the hand…
– Psalm 77 (see NIV, NRSV)
I express thanks for one of my early writing teachers for sharing the honesty of personal pain so we could join this journey of hope. I am grateful to James Petersen for giving me the space and encouragement to share this hope as one of my early public proclamations of God’s word. And I speak gratitude beyond words to John Stek, for giving us all so much through his leadership in the NIV translation and unsurpassed NIV study bible, and especially for sharing so freely a passion for the Hebrew scriptures in the Old Testament club. We, all of us, stand on the shoulders of giants – especially when we hope…
Please note that references in parentheses (-) refer to books of the Bible unless otherwise specified.
Dark Nights of Hope
Some time ago in another land a Christian missionary was gripped by a paralyzing state of depression. Her self-confidence and motivation disappeared. Her Bible only seemed to speak with God’s voice of judgment. It seemed to her as if God’s love had utterly vanished from the face of the earth. For a long time that seemed even longer, her self simply refused to be comforted.
Finally, her counselor asked, “Was there ever a time when you knew God loved you?” She said, “Yes – but that was before all this.” Her counselor responded, “What makes you think God has changed his mind?”
That was the break-through. With that reminder of truth, her self began to find God’s peace beyond understanding (Philip 4). And she began to realize the mystery that the support of her husband and counselor was God’s outstretched hand of love. Later, she once concluded her testimony with a benediction of praise: “Though God’s footprints are not always seen, God’s path leads through the sea” (Psm 77).
First Questions from the Chaos
I believe all of us can in some way identify with this person’s plight. Many believers, who know that God claims to be a God of love and so promises to deliver us, have at some time looked at their situation in life and wondered, “Has God’s love vanished?” We live in a world often tossed helplessly on a sea of confusion. In these pandemic times, it seems the very chaos of Hell has broken loose upon us. We look over these billowing waves, and weep for the vast numbers who are gone, and with more who mourn their loss. It is not difficult to wonder, “Where is the power of God?”
In Psalm 77, the agonizing praying poet, Asaph by name, asks these very tough and scary questions. He looks at the situation around him, the plight of his people, and the sense of helplessness inside him – and he becomes distressed beyond comfort. Here is a person and a people in crisis. We know God’s promises – but our current circumstances seem to contradict those beloved words. We know God is real – but right now, we feel abandoned…
When we are on the shores of such a stormy sea, how do we find hope if our very selves refused to be comforted? Blinded by a dark night of confusion, how do we see God’s promised work? And how do we quiet our restless longings when it seems our greatest love has left us?
I believe the answer will come through – as we exercise the courage of faith to begin where Asaph started in Psalm 77: by wrestling all the way through this “dark night of the soul.” When the waves of chaos begin to kick up, this believing poet gets down on his knees. His questions are not easy. He does not have a wonderful song of praise to bring to God, not in this time. But he prays: He cries out loudly, so loud that God can hear, over whatever distance there seems between them – he is desperate for help. When he finds himself in painful distress, he seeks the LORD. When he agonizes for the plight and need of his people, he turns to God.
So our praying self stretches out our hand, our whole physical-spiritual self and all that is within us reaches out for something more, in utter need for God, without quitting. We all need an answer! And, yes, I believe! – it is in this journey, this process of praying by wrestling with God, that we will rediscover an undying hope within us.
As we do, I find there are three discernible stages in this journey: Wrestling – Remembering – Hoping. In this continuing series of blog posts through these next several weeks, we will unpack each of these steps one at a time. I invite you to use these reflections as a basis for deeper meditation also into the meaning of this Easter time of celebrating hope. Along the way, let us listen for this symphony in three movements, from chords of dissonance, rising to a crashing crescendo, and resting into simple notes of peace. Let us seize this opportunity to embrace this roller-coaster ride together, with the poetic prayer of Psalm 77, right through the middle of our chaotic seas – to seek together what will greet us on the opposite shore…
“This mini-series of reflections on Psalm 77 consists of four consecutive blog posts: a link for each of these posts appears (or will soon) in the series section Bible Vistas.”
God so loved the world… God is love!
Then I saw a new heaven and new earth…
and the tree of life…
at the middle of the great street of the city…
and the leaves of the tree
are for the healing of the cultures.
John 3; 1 John 4; Revelation 21, 22