Thursday, April 2, 2020

Psalm 77

In the day of my trouble, I seek the Lord…


The Bible is remarkably honest about the troubles and sorrows we will face in this life. Any expectation that Christians may expect to avoid or somehow rise above suffering and sadness in this life is inconsistent with God’s Word. It is understandable why such empty promises have always found an audience. Our hearts long for that land where there are no sorrows. But we do not live there yet. Even though, by God’s grace, we do experience many joys, this life is a veil of tears.


Only God’s Word offers an adequate answer as to why this is. The entire created order, ourselves included, has been corrupted by sin. Because of this the whole creation groans and we ourselves with it (Romans 8:18ff). Whether because of disease, disaster, or disobedience each of us experiences the heavy weight of this fallen world. But God has not left us alone in our sorrow. Indeed, he has prepared for us a weight of glory in the life to come to which our present pains cannot be compared (Romans 8:18).


Until then the Lord has provided for his people a prayerful and worshipful language in which we may express our sadness and dismay. This language is called lament. One writer has called lament, “a prayer in pain that leads to trust.”[1] To lift up a prayer of lament is an act of deep trust in the Lord. It means we know things are not the way they are intended to be. Also, when we lift our lament before God we are acknowledging that only he can offer our souls the comfort they crave.


Lament is not the opposite of praise. It is a part of praise uniquely fit for a fallen world while the redeemed wait for the dawning of the age to come. “Lament is a path to praise as we are led through our brokenness and disappointment. The space between brokenness and God’s mercy is where this song is sung…It is the path from heartbreak to hope.”[2]


I cry aloud to God.


There is nothing discreet about the Psalmist’s prayer. There is no pretending in him at this point. His anguish is so great that he quite literally gives voice to his complaint. He cries out aloud. But this is not some undirected cry of abandonment. He cries out “to God.” His anguished cry is a prayer to God. His days of trouble were days of prayer. Likewise, our days of trouble should be days of prayer. Our mourning, our sighing, our complaint does no good until we lift that anguish up to the throne of God. Christian lament is anguish lifted to God; to the only One who can do anything about it.


Has God forgotten to be gracious?

Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah


The questions the Psalmist raises (vv. 7-9) may seem risky to those who have not suffered much. But the suffering Psalmist has no more room for pretending that he is not dismayed by what seems like a disparity between who he knows God to be and his present desolation. His questions focus on God’s favor, his love, his promises, his grace, and his compassion. These are all related to one another. Essentially, the Psalmist is asking whether God will remember his covenant, his steadfast loyal love. Is it possible, the questions imply, that God has forgotten his promise to love and keep his people?


However, the questions, while reflecting real pain, actually anticipate a negative response. And this is the cause of the Psalmist’s dismay. For he knows that the Lord does not abandon his people. He does not remove his love from his chosen ones. He does not forsake his covenant. How then, the Psalmist wonders, can he reconcile that knowledge with his present pain?


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?


“The memories which at first brought only tormenting comparisons are resolutely re-examined, no longer colored with the present despair but allowed to shine with their own light and speak with their own logic. By the end of the psalm the pervasive ‘I’ has disappeared, and the objective facts of the faith have captured all his attention and all of ours.”[3] In short, after a long look at himself and his pain the Psalmist now lifts his gaze to the Lord and his mighty works.


Your way was through the sea,

your path through the great waters;

yet your footprints were unseen.

You led your people like a flock

by the hand of Moses and Aaron.


Here we have echoes of God’s deliverance of the people through his judgement upon Egypt. God redeems his people, not by denying justice, but in its fulfillment. Ultimately, God saved his people not by ignoring the due penalty of their sin but by redirected that penalty to and absorbing it in himself in the Person of the Son. When Jesus died on the cross he experienced the flood waters of God’s judgment. He absorbed the fire of Divine justice so that sinners could be delivered from their captivity to sin, decay, and death. In our dark night of suffering let us remember above all things the love and justice of God so brilliantly displayed on the cross.


Only when we gaze upon the cross of Christ will we remember the unfailing faithfulness of God. Christian lament terminates in hope precisely because the Father spared not his own Son but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32). How will he fail us now? How could God ever forsake us when he has already given us his most precious gift? In looking to the cross, our present sorrow may not end, but we will know that we have a Savior who sang songs in the night just as we do. When we look to the cross we can rest in the knowledge that God’s justice has been satisfied so that our present sufferings, though real and painful, can ultimately not be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us as the children of God (Romans 8:18).


[1] Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds Deep Mercy (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019) p. 28

[2] Ibid

[3] Derek Kidner, Psalms (Downers Grove: IVP, 1973) p. 277