Thursday, August 16, 2012

No Footrpints in the Sand

My heart is heavy.  Summer weather has finally come.  I should be enjoying the August sun and the season of rest before school starts.  Instead I'm struggling to hang onto joy.  What a waste of beautiful weather!

But sun in the heart doesn't always follow sun in the sky.  That's life.

Maybe I've been reading too much world news.  

No.  The problem is closer than that.  I'm seeing the spiritual apathy and emptiness in my own little world.  And, too often, in my own little heart. 

I'm comparing the fruitful way God used to work, in both my world and my heart, with the spiritual barrenness that seems to surround me.  I wonder, sometimes, if God is even able to reach any of us in our current culture of self-satisfaction and apathy. 


It's somewhat comforting to know I'm not the first to feel this angst.  This morning I opened my Bible to Psalm 77.  In verses 1 and 2, David says,

"I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.  When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would (could?) not be comforted."

David expressed his despair.  Then he did all the right things.  He "remembered" God.  He "meditated."  

But the spiritual exercise didn't help.  When he remembered, he groaned.  When he meditated, his heart grew faint.  The right things didn't lift his spirits.

I love that David never hesitates to plunge into the depths of despair and swim around in there.  The center of the Psalm is full of outrageously negative, ridiculously impossible suggestions:

"Will the Lord reject forever?" 

Of course not. 

"Will He never show his favor again?" 

Doesn't sound like David's God to me.

"Has His unfailing love vanished forever?" 

How can "unfailing" vanish forever?

"Has His promise failed for all time?  
Has God forgotten to be merciful?  
Has He in anger withheld his compassion?"

David knows God doesn't fail to keep His word.  
God doesn't forget.  
And His anger will never supersede his love.

Then the Psalmist thinks about the past, "the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand."  This kind of remembering, of focusing on who God is and what He has done in the past, brings David around.

There is a time to focus on our doubts and fears.  It's just before the time we focus on God.


I think it's interesting that in this Psalm David calls God's people the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.  Why not the usual Abraham and Isaac? 

Jacob wasn't the most upright patriarch.  He did stupid things that resulted in great pain and despair for himself and others.  And Joseph wasn't even in the mainstream of Jewish ancestry.  He was a minor sideshoot, an eddy along the edge of the stream of God's purposes for Israel and the world.

But Jacob and Joseph did have two relevant things in common.  

1.  They both experienced years of wondering where God was. 

Jacob's long years of grieving for his favorite son, Joseph, must have often led him to wonder if God had rejected him forever. 

And Joseph, sold into slavery and languishing in prison for crimes he didn't commit, must have wondered, often, if God had forgotten to be merciful, if He would never show His favor again.

But. . .

2.  Both were delivered into great joy and peace in the end. They found fulfillment and purpose in their suffering, after they'd been refined and God's glory had been displayed through their circumstances.

In verse 19, David remembers that, "though [God's] footsteps were not seen," His path "led (safely) through the sea, through the mighty waters."

And even in the middle of this Psalm full of groans David can still praise God:
"Your ways, God, are holy." 

He can ask one more outrageously obvious question:
"What god is as great as our God?"

Even when there are no footprints in the sand.


Janet Sketchley said...

This post nourished me today. And I'd never thought about the mentions of Jacob and Joseph. That makes perfect sense.

The sun will rise in His time. Keep looking east. And thanks for sharing this struggle.

Ginny Jaques said...

And don't you like the picture? I love the bedouin standing on his camel. I bet they do that in the desert. Kind of like we might look at a map!