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.
God’s Present Love
In Psalm 77, the poet asks some tough questions. 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 Hoping.
Through deeper seeking, the Psalmist invites us to recall God’s great works of love in the past. In these memories, we come to know God again in a more clear way. God’s love is greater than all other forces in this world. This loving God works in history to redeem God’s people. God is not changeable, not absent, not neglectful. God is love, and this God is here, acting for our good.
Hoping: Walking By Faith
In remembering God’s great works, we affirm again that God has faithfully delivered and redeemed us. At the same time, we can observe that one issue still remains. There is still our need amidst this present situation of distress. We need God to work out God’s saving work of the past again in our present. We wait expectantly for God to display unfailing love today. We need empowering to live through the stresses of our current struggles.
Surprisingly it seems, we are not told here that God has removed the present situation of distress – that does not happen yet. But in remembering God’s faithful loving acts of the past, the believer finds all the comfort and hope needed to go on. So how is this a hope and strength to march onward in spite of trouble? HOW does such faith work in the here and now of every day challenges?
The answer actually is in the nature of our present situation. Since God’s very first promises and acts of redemption, we live between two realities: On the one side, God has acted to show us God’s love, there is no doubt about that. On the other side, because God’s is holy faithfulness itself, God will act to show us God’s love, and there is no doubt about that either. And it is in our present that these two sure realities come together as one. The love God has done, God will do again. This is one on-going united always-happening process. You see, we are in the middle of this happening, every day, here, right now. We may not always see the invisible footprints of this right at the moment, but God is doing this, because this is all that God is. Our present is encircled in one seamless whole of redemption: already done, still to be completed, and happening now.
Our current life is one of sure remembering, sure hoping, sure believing. So it is in this present living by faith that we realize with the poet, it is our grief that God is changing. God does not change, God’s love never changes. But God does turn death into life, our mourning into dancing, our agony into faith.
A Brief History of Hope
Through it all, there is a wonderful mystery at the heart of all this. The believer acknowledges that we often do not seem to see God’s footprints, but they do, nonetheless, lead through the sea. And as God’s work unfolds throughout history, we continue to grasp more clearly what this is all about.
You see, this prayer also recalls how God’s loving care so often stretches toward us through mediators: leaders called and anointed by God to guide us in faith and wisdom, to encourage us to believe and walk in God’s ways of life and blessing. God led the people through the Red sea and onward to the promised land by the guiding hand of Moses and Aaron. Later, God called king David to shepherd God’s beloved flock into justice and peace. And when kings violated that calling by greed and corruption, God raised up prophets to challenge leaders and people alike back into God’s truth and deliverance. In time, God sent the promised Messiah, Jesus, God-with-us, and so all God’s words of hope became flesh among us. Here is the prophet greater than Moses, the priest greater than Aaron, the true king of all kings, the great shepherd of God’s sheep, the servant who sacrifices to set us free into God’s jubilee, the one who leads us through the valley of death and onward into a new creation of everlasting life (Psm 23; Isa 9, 11, 40-66).
Ultimately and most fully, in Jesus we behold the glory of God, we see God’s heart of love for this world and everyone in it (Jn 1, 3; Colos 1). In Jesus, God’s invisible footprints become visible, for all to know the unfailing love of God. In Jesus, God answers our questions and doubts with the nail-scars in the hands and feet of the risen Lord!
The Presence of Hope
So to return to the agonizing questions of our time, which earlier threw us into such wrestling prayer to God, where is God in these times? Where is God amidst the on-going restless needs of the human race? What is God doing about evil and oppression today? Where is God amidst our cries for help?
Most definitely and fully, God is with us: Immanuel. And this Jesus, too, as God’s very presence amidst the human crisis, cried out with our despair, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psm 22, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). In Jesus, God even knows our pain, and death – and reaches beyond all this, to bring us to that ultimate shore where all is new (Hebrews, Revel). And so God’s Spirit within us prays with the groans too deep for words, which echo the creation’s longing for us to be liberated into life (Rom 8).
In sum, what has God done about this dark sea of pain and evil and sin which plagues the human race? God has come here amidst the darkness to be with us. God has entered into “the nightmare at the bottom of the world” (Robert Capon, The Third Peacock). And there, God dealt with the chaos of darkness once for and all. Here, God turned the light on, God’s work in Jesus lights up the world with love, and the darkness will never overcome this reality (Jn 1). Through it all, God’s greatest promise, work, and hope for us is the reality that God is always with us. God’s loving presence with us is our present.
Then, just as God’s love is our past and our present, so God’s promised work for us is our future. When death did everything it could to drown the Son of God in that Sea forever; when hell itself threaten to hold him prisoner forever in the deep, along with every other human being who ever lived; when the hope of the whole human race was on the line – God did the impossible. Right through the middle of that sea of death, God’s powerful hand opened the miraculous path of resurrection to life. And on that great day when Jesus’ resurrection becomes ours, we will pass through the final sea into that promised land where new creation becomes perfect anew, forever…
Our Footprints of Hope
So let us go now and take with us a new vision of how we live in this world. We no longer need to panic at the chaos, nor seek to escape its intimidation. Instead, we can walk right through the middle of this world by faith. God has worked in history and the decisive battle for life has been won. Amidst present hardships in this world and the darkness of the fallen human race, God will hold us by the hand and bring us through. When we pass through the waters, we will not drown (Isa 40-66). Let us walk through the sea of this world’s pain and hurt and despair, let us join hands and walk through this chaos and brokenness together. With the Psalmist, let us proclaim the good news. Let us point the way to Jesus, God’s path through the sea. Let us stretch out our hands to the peoples of the world to share the great unfailing love of God. Let us serve in the footsteps of Jesus that we can see and know, for our brothers and sisters, for the people of the world, to share openly with our lives this undying hope.
So God leads us into God’s new kingdom reality. So God leads us by the hand of that great shepherd of the sheep. Jesus is our “precious Lord,” who takes us by the hand to walk us through the storm. We can trust our whole selves into this hope every day, with this black gospel song, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4u8yi-7raeg.
So with our children’s generations to come, when we will stand hand-in-hand on the other side, we will celebrate together the good redeeming works of our loving God. Then and there, we will know again and sing anew –
When we’ll be here ten thousand years,
bright shining as the SON,
We’ll have no less days to sing God’s praise
than when we’d first begun.
AMEN – so it was, so it will be, so it is!
“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