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.
Listening for the Voice
In Psalm 77, the poet asks some tough questions. Here is a person and a people who feel abandoned. Still, I believe! – it is in this process of wrestling with God that we will rediscover an undying hope. As we do, I find there are three discernible stages in this journey: Wrestling – Remembering – Hoping. In this reflection, we explore the meaning of remembering.
As this move begins, faith is on trial here. The surrounding “evidence” throws prayer into restless doubt. 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?
Remembering: Journey Back to Hope
With this Psalmist, we come to the end of our own human understanding. The sleep has been lost. The questions have been asked – but there is no answer. At such points, is there anything left to pray about? Still, this wrestling word that is God’s word, somehow presses on. Curiously, the poet Implies that God wrestles here, too: now it is God who keeps my eyes from closing – to keep me seeking…
This is the point when the heart remembers: We have only one ultimate hope. There is no sufficient hope amidst the worlds stormy confusion; there is no sufficient power in our merely human strength. The only possible hope great enough to fill our deepest need must be in God. However distant God seems, God remains the only place to go for all-surpassing hope. So the Psalmist makes his appeal to that powerful hand of God. It’s subtle at first – but his eyes begin to turn from his own situation, to focus instead on what God’s hand has done, in history, in this world, to show us God’s love and renewal.
Let’s recall this with the Psalmist. The Israelites were in a self-helpless situation by the Red Sea. They looked at their enemies on one side and the sea of death on the other side, and they panicked. They cried, “God, did you bring us out here just to let us die?” But just when the situation was impossible, God told the people to believe God for the impossible. The story declares the news: God enacted the miracle of deliverance, through the sea. God is the greatest of all, and ultimately controls all things. God’s power does work for the redemption and resurrection of God’s people. God’s people can live by faith in God. And when we go through the Sea by this faith, we come to the other side free from our enemies and on our way into God’s promised kingdom – as God’s beloved children (Exod 1-19).
In the whole story start to end, God’s work promises THE way through our sea of chaos. After the human fall into the sea of death., God immediately promised redemption. Throughout the struggles of history, God promised the coming Messiah, the true king who works God’s renewing kingdom reality in this world. Now, this promise of God’s covenant love and blessing has become flesh in Jesus. Messiah Jesus is our path through the Sea of alienation, sin, brokenness, oppression, sickness, and death. Jesus went into the Sea for us. Even though he agonized with these Psalms in the garden on the night before he took the horrifying plunge, he came up from his knees in the faith that God has the power to open for him a path through the Sea. So for all of us, Jesus’ resurrection now stands as God’s on-going promise, our open way through to the other side.
And like footprints not at first so obvious in the sea, poetic brush-strokes of Psalmic prayer already hint at God’s cataclysmic deeds to come. When the waters of our seas see the hand of God begin to work, the chaos is afraid. The deeps tremble before our mighty God (Psm 42, 46). Darkness and death know, its time is up (Psm 16, 139)! When the skies thunder their rain, another song whispers in the wind: God’s love stretches over all the heavens and reaches out to us through the clouds (Psm 57). When deep calls to deep, we hear the voice of God’s presence in the waves (Psm 16, 42, Revel 1, 22). Then the veil lifts, even if just for an instant. As the lightning flashes, God’s power lights up the world. Yes, it’s time for God’s fireworks to dispel the darkness, and dazzle prayer into delight. Even darkness is an occasion for God’s light (Psm 139). And the darkness will never overcome the light of God’s presence (Jn 1).
In all of this the sovereign love of God becomes more clear again. And now the poet’s questions give themselves away, in a sense the hope is found in the question itself. We ask if God’s unfailing love has failed. But when we look to God, it becomes clear that it is only the surrounding circumstances that let us down. In remembering God’s power, the contradiction in the question comes to light. If God’s unfailing love is faithful surety, how can it fail?! In appealing to the powerful hand of God, the believer recalls God’s great acts of old. We reconsider God’s mighty deeds. They have definitely revealed God’s nature to be faithful love that does not fail God’s people. Here is the God who is always active to save us. This is who God IS (1 Jn 4). This God is the great “I AM,” the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, who is always here to deliver us (Exod 3).
In these memories, one comes to know God again in a deeper way (Psm 42, 139). In the darkness of distress, the peace of faith becomes real (Psm 42-43). We root ourselves in God’s work, and our foundation in Messiah Jesus becomes more sure on the sandy shores of that stormy sea (consider Psm 1; Matt 7).
So the Psalmist breaks forth with conviction: God is holy – above all other powers, greater than all forces arrayed against us. God is more powerful than anything else foolish humans choose to trust in their own illusions (Isaiah). The creator God displays wonders amidst all cultures, where any seeking people can behold God’s glory (Rom 1). This loving God works in history with redeeming power to save God’s people from all forms of oppression (Exod 1-19). Actually, there is no new answer here to the present situation of distress. The answer has been present all the time. God is not changeable, not absent, not neglectful. God is love, and this God is here, acting for our good. So, we all do ourselves good to reconsider what God has done to provide God’s love for us, to root ourselves again into this surpassing promise for the challenges of this day…
“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