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)
This mini-series of reflections on Psalm 77 continues from the last post of this blog.
Please note that references in parentheses (-) refer to books of the Bible unless otherwise specified.
Picking Up the Questions
In Psalm 77, the agonizing praying poet, Asaph by name, asks some 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…
Still, 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 reflection, we explore the meaning of wrestling…
Wrestling: Discomforts of Praying
So the restless believer of Psalm 77 prays. He does not sleep, he cannot sleep. He demands an answer. He prays – and yet his very self refuses to be comforted. Why? He remembers God. But this only makes him groan. He remembers God promises to be a God of love to God’s people. He remembers God promises glorious salvation, mercy, and compassion, to give us a new life of peace, shalom, in God’s new kingdom reality (see just before all this in Psm 76). He remembers times in the past when he sang at night, and the days were filled with joy. But none of this comforts him now.
These are the groans in the dark that only keep him awake at night. Have you ever prayed, remembered God, and just groaned? Apparently, that’s not as sac religious as it might sound. Specifically, this poet begins wondering… “I know there were times of joy before, oh, those good old times – but if I’m so troubled now, if my people are so troubled now, has God left us? So he cries out in agony: Has the covenant God forgotten to keep God’s covenant with us? Are God’s promises ruined and failed? Is God angry – has God forsaken God’s way of love and compassion? Who is God, after all, in this dark night of the self?
Now we can grasp the force and depth of these questions. This is not just a matter of, “Why don’t I feel good?” Faith is on trial here. The Psalmist looks at the “evidence” around him and the apparent verdict scares him. The whole plan of God’s salvation comes under question here. The whole history of God’s work and promises comes into doubt. The very character of God is at issue. And the Psalm almost bursts out the question for us, too: Who and what is your God in the dark?
Yes, these same questions are not far from us today. We know of God’s work and plan and promises. We know Jesus is our Messiah – our savior and our king. We know the Lord Jesus taught us that he has overcome the corruption in this world that opposes God and oppresses God’s people. We know God promises to care for our needs as we seek to follow and live for Jesus. We know Jesus promises us power to live for him with the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. We know he promised to come again. But when peace escapes the loneliness of old age; when broken relationships do not come back together, no matter how hard we pray; when marriages are abandoned even amidst God’s people; when we as a society abandon unloved babies and threaten thousands with racist hate; when we tremble at times with fear in the face of temptation, fearing that in weakness we might sin and see our whole life crumble before our lusting eyes; when dictatorial communism still oppresses millions and greedy capitalism fools and traps still more; when economic hardships stress and leave us feeling helpless; when the waste of human consumption threatens to destroy God’s garden creation before Jesus comes again – it’s not hard to wonder about all the promises of God.
At this point, the poet just sighs: “Selah.” Yes, with how this seeks peace beyond understanding, we do well to take a breath a moment… With another Psalm, we sigh with the longing of the deer panting for water in the wilderness: when can I come and meet with God? Here, “deep calls to deep” in the waterfall of life. And still, in this song of many rushing waters, we may yet here the Lord’s voice of constant love (Psm 42, Revel 1)…
“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