The God Who Hides Himself
The life of faith is rarely straightforward and uncomplicated. Every moment of every day we have to contend with ‘the world, the flesh and the devil.’ Added to this triumvirate of enemies, there is the reality that our circumstances often seem in opposition to God’s promises. These hard facts are one reason why Christians should read and be well acquainted with the book of Psalms.
In Psalm 77, Asaph laments the sense of the absence of the presence of God. He tells us that he is spiritually distraught. He speaks of ‘the day of my trouble.’ He tells us that his soul refused to be comforted. The reason for his heart and soul distress is that he feels that God has turned away from him and ceased to be gracious to him. Read the searing honesty of this believer:
Will the Lord spurn for ever, and never again be favourable? 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? (Psa. 77:7-9).
Perhaps you can identify with the Psalmist. The Christian life for you has been, or is becoming, hard. God seems far off. Life is wearisome. The heavens seem like brass. Every day seems a joyless grind. And, like the Psalmist, you are asking, ‘Lord, where are you?’
Like a number of Psalms, this Psalm does not end with a joyful resolution of Asaph’s complaint. Life in general, and the life of trustful reliance on God and his grace to us in the Lord Jesus Christ in particular, is not always that neat and tidy. Often we have to live with unresolved trials, with debilitating weakness, with the taunts of the enemies of God. Having said that, the Psalmist provides us with ‘a way ahead.’ He does not simply shrug his shoulders and tell us just to grin and bear it. Unsurprisingly Asaph reminds himself of the history of God’s dealings with his people, and of a stunning theological truth.
First, in verses 11-15, God’s troubled servant ponders the past history of the people of God:
‘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. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph.’ The word of God truly is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psa. 119:105).
Nothing is more calculated to lift up our weary, distressed souls than pondering, meditating, on the mighty works of God in history. Out of nothing in the space of six days he created all things by his powerful word. He opened a sea to rescue his people. He drowned an army in the same sea. He opened up a river for his people to cross over and then razed the fortified walls of a city to the ground to give them a great victory. He delivered his people from a vast army with 300 men. The Old Testament is full of the ‘mighty deeds’ of the Lord on behalf of his people. No less does the New Testament herald God’s mighty deeds on behalf of his people (ponder and meditate). Towering above them all is the resurrection triumph of our Lord Jesus, his public triumph over sin and death and hell.
In all of our troubles and sense of desertion, we need to be Bible-saturated men and women. Our reading of God’s word needs to be regular, not spasmodic; wide ranging, not narrowly focused; deeply reflective, not superficial.
There is, however, another strand to the Psalmist’s encouragement. We read in verse 19, ‘Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen [Hebrew: unknown]’—‘yet your footprints were unknown.’ Asaph is telling us something theologically profound. God’s presence may not be seen, or felt, when in fact he is powerfully, actively, and graciously present. I have often reflected on these words throughout the course of my Christian life. Too often I have allowed my circumstances to cloud my understanding of the Lord and his covenant-pledged commitment never to leave me or forsake me. These words in Psalm 77 remind me that my perception of things is not what ultimately matters. What matters is the covenant, pledged-in-blood faithfulness of our gracious and good God.
Whether you or I can discern the Lord’s presence with us in the midst of our troubles and trials is actually neither here nor there. I don’t mean we should be content with the absence of the sense of God’s presence. I mean we greatly need to live theologically and not circumstantially.
At a time when God’s ways with his church were deeply perplexing, Isaiah wrote, ‘Truly, you are a God who hides himself’ (Isa. 45:15). Later the Lord reminds his servant, ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (Isa. 55:8, 9). We see through a glass darkly; but one day face to face.
The life of faith is uneven and often perplexing. It was for our Saviour. He experienced disappointment and discouragement. He was denied and betrayed by men he had personally chosen. As he hung on the cross as our sin-atoning Saviour, he cried, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matt. 27:46). Sometimes all we have in this life is naked trust; yet living with the assurance that the Lord will never leave us nor forsake us. That when we walk through the waters we have his promise, ‘I will be with you’ (Isa. 43:2), even when we cannot see his footprints.
All of the above is reduced to this: The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is where we cast our anchor (Rom. 8:32). There, as nowhere else, do we see how greatly God loves us.
Ultimately every Christian needs to live the life of faith out of their union with Jesus Christ. This union, forged in eternity, sealed at Calvary, and initiated by faith, is unbreakable. Our dark and desolating experiences cannot nullify or qualify in any degree this unbreakable covenant. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we have his promise, ‘I will be with you.’
So, the sum of the Psalm is simply this: ‘Have faith in God. Trust who God is. Trust him when you cannot fathom him. Rest the weight of all you are, your troubles, distresses, fears, disappointments, miseries, on the grace and love of the One who spared not his only Son but delivered him up for us all. Have faith in God.’
This article first appeared in the February 2020 issue of the Banner of Truth magazine.
Thumbnail Photo by Mark Eder on Unsplash
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