For the singer of Psalm 77, comfort is a stranger. His is a season of sorrow and spiritual fatigue. I value the authenticity of this Psalm. I also appreciate the key elements that make up the movement of the Psalm. The singer moves from cries to questions to remembrance. This is a movement we can learn from.
“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. You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (1-4).
A hoarse voice, weary arms, bloodshot eyes, and a tired soul…this is what godliness looks like in this text. This man is pursuing God and even his own pain will not stop him. Charles Spurgeon captures the faith underneath the cry to God.
“Asaph did not run to man but to the Lord, and to him he went, not with studied, stately, stilted words, but with a cry, the natural, unaffected, unfeigned expression of pain. He used his voice also, for though vocal utterance is not necessary to the life of prayer, it often seems forced upon us by the energy of our desires. Sometimes the soul feels compelled to use the voice, for thus it finds a freer vent for its agony. It is a comfort to hear the alarm bell ringing when the house is invaded by thieves.”
Note also the Psalmist’s transparency as he describes his feelings about God. The thought of God causes pain to well up within him. All consideration of God evokes moaning and fainting. This is a hard place, but a very real place. There are seasons where God and distress are uncomfortably intertwined. I resonate with Spurgeon’s comment on this dynamic.
“He who is the wellspring of delight to faith becomes an object of dread to the psalmist’s distracted heart. Alas, my God, the writer of this exposition well knows what thy servant Asaph meant, for his soul is familiar with the way of grief. Deep glens and lonely caves of soul depressions, my spirit knows full well your awful glooms!”
“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? 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?” (7-9).
Cries give way to questions. The character of these inquiries speaks to the depth of the covenant relationship that exists between God and the Psalmist. The Singer knows that he can engage God with honesty and that his God welcomes hard questions. His questions are all focused on the faithfulness of God. He wants to know if God has forgotten himself and his promises. Has God lost track of his own character? Have his promises slipped his mind? The Psalmist is wondering…
“Then I said, ‘I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (11-12)…Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen” (19).
Everything changes when the Psalmist quiets his voice, lowers his hands, and focuses his memory. This text turns on remembrance. With remembrance comes hope. The Psalmist is clearly recalling the Red Sea deliverance that followed the mass exodus from Egypt. He remembers how the Egyptians had the Israelites backed up against the wall…hedged in at the Red Sea with no visible sign of escape. He brings to mind the parting of the waters and the pathway through a hopeless situation. Note his insightful statement, “your footprints were unseen.”
It is the “unseen” activity of God in a hopeless situation that brings the Psalmist hope. God’s indiscernible “footprints”…this causes his heart to take courage. His situation feels dire, dark, and without hope. But he recognizes that God excels at showing up in these scenarios. He has done it again and again throughout salvation history. He strolls through a mass of water and welcomes his people to walk in his invisible footsteps. The Psalmist is confident that God has not ceased to lead this way even though he is unaware of it…this brings him great encouragement and will do the same for us.