Do me a favor and please read Psalm 77.
Twice we get this image of “outstretched hands”. Once from the writer Asaph (in verse 2) and the other from his remembrance of God’s “outstretched hands” in the past (verse 10) – and to me that struck a chord. As you read this psalm you get this emotional plea of someone in distress, frustration, and internal confusion. They are shouting out to God to listen to their pleas of help. All night long they cry out to God, all night long they pray to God, and all night long they continuously lift their “untiring hands” to the heavens for God to simply respond. And nothing has been happening. For whatever reason, and whatever they are going through, while their past was filled with rest, joy, singing, and love – those are now but a fleeting memory.
We simply don’t have a lot of information about Asaph and where he is in this psalm but we can match his feelings as being a reoccurring theme throughout the Exodus – thus it leads many scholars to feel that this is a corporate “crying out” and lament that point us back to the feelings the whole nation had as it wandered in the desert. And what did God do in the past when his people were in distress and lamenting? He responded with food and protection…with rest. And it is that fact that holds Asaph in pain.
So why does he feel so sad and distressed? If someone has seen the wondrous responses and love of a God of the past as he helped those in need (and knows that it has happened time and time again) – why would you feel so far away from him, so deep in the pit, so rejected now? Well, it’s that point exactly. If God had responded time and time again to his people after they rejected him, tested him, built false idols in replace of him, and did so many other profane things what have I DONE that is so bad that God wouldn’t even respond to ME!? Asaph is so far in darkness that he feels that God must proclaim that his place is even further than the Israelites ever went. The present is so much deeper in darkness than the past that God must have cast him off forever.
What a dark, sad, and lonely place to be in and I would love to know where Asaph was at in his thinking. Because his struggle is so real and painfully vivid. As he remembered God he “groaned.” He meditated and his “spirit grew faint.” He can’t sleep and he can’t even talk about it! I don’t know if he’s ashamed, angered, or simply exhausted – but no words will even come out of his mouth so forget reaching out to friends for help. And don’t even get me started about the stark contrast of his words about God’s “unfailing love” that has also somehow “vanished.” How can something be “unfailing” and yet still “vanish?” And yet through all of this there is a fine thin string he still holds to: the miracles of God of long ago. “I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (11-12).
I appreciate how one author (Roger Ellsworth) states that Asaph realized that in his woe and distress that he had been looking at all of this wrong. Instead of looking at the past of a God who has responded and yet doesn’t seem to be responding now – he realized that he should be looking at the simple fact that God RESPONDED. Period. That he was allowing the glory of the past to “depress him” instead of “bless him” in his present and future.
We see all the beauty and truth of the glory of God and how he time and time again saved his people while they struggled to even remain faithful to him…and then we see where WE are and simply wonder where is THAT God NOW? I never profane his name (at least not directly), I never cast idols (OK…we all do that one in VARIOUS ways), I never demanded things from God as the people did…(wait…I think I am now) – but I am SO MUCH BETTER than them (shoot – I think I’m doing something bad there too)! So where are you God? Why will you not take this pain away? Why will you not give me peace and rest from my distress? Why will you simply not respond and remove me from this place of despair to a place of peace and rest?
Often times we struggle with looking at the love and glory of the God of the past when we’re stuck in the pains and darkness of the present. And what that can do is taint our view of the very same God who pronounces glorious blessings to his people in their future. But our future, while we know is glorious and hopeful, is often times too far off for our now. Or maybe it’s just me. but I sure would like a response in the NEAR and IMMEDIATE future rather than the glorious future that is seemingly too far away (actually, I’d like both). Isn’t 5 seconds from now the future? You can take my pain away then…I’d be OK with that.
But it’s simply not about me and I have absolutely no clue what God is doing and when it will come to fruition…and I have to be patient with that (something I’m slowly working through but my patience needs patience) – even patience during the pain and struggles. And we must always remember that the God of the past is the same as the God as the present and the future. And the God of all of those has moved mountains to bless us now and for our future (immediate and beyond) with a glorious eternity in his New Creation.
I want to end with a powerful challenge that I read – a challenge for me and hopefully one for you too (and it comes from Roger Ellsworth again). “When we are satisfied with God as he is, we will find ourselves no longer troubled by what he does.”