I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Psalm 77–78.
I came to the end of Psalm 77 and knew that the editors of the Psalms must have had the same feeling I did. “And then what happened?”
This Psalm of Asaph is one of those laments that does not hesitate to ask hard questions of God.
I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
(Psalm 77:1–4 ESV)
I think every person who lives long enough comes to know this feeling. We face hard times in this fallen world. We ourselves suffer, and we watch the people around us suffer. We see our communities—our churches, our neighborhoods, our nations—stumble and falter. We long for things to be set right, and they have not yet been set right. Even the thought of God is hard (v. 3).
But Asaph looks to God anyway. The rest of the Psalm turns and faces the character and history of God. It asks the hard questions:
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?"
(Psalm 77:8–9, ESV)
Asaph’s answer is straightforward: “I will remember the deeds of Yahweh” (v. 11). And the rest of the Psalm is just that: a reflection on the creative power of God—with a turn just twice to God’s work in his people (vv. 15, 20). Our God is the God who made the heavens and the earth, to whom belong storms and seas and every mighty, awesome thing we see around us. From him comes salvation.
And then, with “You led your people like a flock / by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (v. 20) the Psalm simply comes to an end. We are left hanging. The editor of the Psalms (and perhaps Asaph himself) recognized that there is more to say into our sorrows and our grief—more to say about who God is and has been not only in the structure of the world but in the history of his people. So the answer continues: Psalm 78 takes up that theme of God’s leading his people by the hand of Moses and Aaron and expands it into a full-fledged poetic history of Yahweh’s work in the people of Israel (one of several such in the Psalms).
Psalm 77 reminds us that our God owns the thunderbolts, and punctuates that sentiment with the reminder that he saves his people. It stands as a monument to the reality that God has all the power he could possibly need to save his people, to show them the steadfast love and compassion that seemed absent when Asaph penned the lament.
Psalm 78 in turn reminds us that Yahweh is more than a sugar-daddy who dances to our whims. He is the God who saves us, yes; he is also the God who judges us and brings righteousness about in his people as well as for his people. The people sin (just as we sin!) and God atones for them (and for us!) even as he judges them (even as he judges us!). It also reminds us that we are not alone. It situates our suffering and struggles against the backdrop of God’s work with his people, of whom we are a part. We are not individuals drifting through life alone, but part of the people of God, both immediately in our local church and broadly in the history of the world. We must situate our struggles and our challenges and our pains against that broader story—not diminishing them, but recognizing that they are part of a larger tapestry. And that tapestry is from the hands of a master weaver. He knows what he is about.
When we face the hard realities of life, then, these Psalms are standing stones that point us back to our rock. Even when the thought of God itself makes us weary and bitter, we must look to him. Who is he? What has he done? Is he not powerful enough to save, and has his work before not shown that he will indeed save? Is he not trustworthy? He is.
We do not always know the reasons God allows and ordains the struggles and travails we face. Indeed: often we do not. We do know the God who is with us in those trials, though. He is the God who has atoned for us when we were still in the act of rebelling against him, and who did so by taking up humanity himself, walking this broken world to heal our hurts. As Hebrews reminds us: the high priest we have is one who can sympathize with our weaknesses. We are not alone: not even in the darkest night, when prayer itself makes us faint. God is with us. Immanuel. The Spirit indwells. Thanks be to God.