It was during the course of reading the Daily Office readings for today that I read Psalm 77. Asaph has a struggle of confidence in the Lord within his heart causing him to waver, displayed here (man, have I been here before):
You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“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?” Selah (ESV)
Lord, where are you? I feel shut in! Are you here, are you still for me? When either our present or past sins overwhelm us with shame, or suffering comes down upon us like a ton of bricks from which we cannot escape and have nothing within us to overcome it, these words really resonate. “Has his steadfast love ceased forever?” Are the words he promised still true? Many doubts can arise in the midst of trial, either that we’ve brought on ourselves or has been brought upon us. What are we to do?
Asaph’s response though isn’t to turn in and circle the drain on what he feels, but shows for us how he lifts his head to what is true, because he knows it’s the only way of recovery:
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.
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. Selah
Asaph fights with his mind and heart to recall and remember. He remembers the merciful deeds of the Lord. He looks back and gives us a meditation upon the history of Israel, how faithful He’s always been to save and deliver. He looks to His rescue of His people. Consider the Exodus, consider all the times he rescued them from their own sins with its consequences or the sins of those against them, even when they didn’t deserve it. Consider the miracles performed that brought them into a land promised for them. How He made water flow from a rock, bread fall from heaven, even while they were rebellious. Consider His mercy and kindness.
For us in the present day, on this side of the cross, resurrection and ascension, not only do we also remember these same acts in the Old Testament (which I would add is also our history as His one covenant, redeemed people), but we look at how that redemptive history continued to unfold up to the present day! He delivered his people from Babylon. They did go back into captivity under the Romans, but only then, in time, in the midst of this very context, did the greatest and final deliverance to be performed by God come in His Son, Jesus, who came as a man, to redeem us (Gentiles as well now) from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. He came to set us free from our bondage to sin, just like the Hebrews from the bondage of Egypt, so that we would be eternally released and brought into the great city of the New Jerusalem. He came to make a final sacrifice that would permanently do away with the hostility between us and God. He came to finally and permanently establish His Kingdom that reigns over all forevermore and make all creation new through His resurrection work of which we have a foretaste of by the outpouring of His Holy Spirit.
Because of our tendency to despair in our sin and in suffering and get locked up in our emotions, this is precisely why I believe it is so important to know the Scriptures, and in particular, the redemptive narrative, the covenant arc of all of Scripture throughout time presented to us in His Word: because it’s so easy to forget unless we have it in our hearts and minds and fight for it to stay at the forefront. God gave us His Word in a story, a narrative fashion and really this is simply the story of the gospel of God’s grace to us sinners, from beginning to end. Books like this, The True Story of the Whole World, do a great job of giving us that overview of Scripture and break it down into an understandable fashion that we might with our own eyes see the mighty works of God in bringing about such a great salvation as we return again and again to His Word.
In addition we need to also be reminded of the doctrinal truths in Scripture of our union with Christ, our justification by His death and resurrection, the atonement and its nature, our ongoing cleansing and sanctification by the gospel, who God is, His nature, His covenants, on and on. Books like Union with Christ, The Christian Life, Far as the Curse is Found, Delighting in the Trinity, and Concise Theology, are all excellent starting points for diving into more of all of these topics.
We need both the gospel story arc of Scripture and the doctrinal truths contained within, driven into our hearts and intentionally kept there through spiritual practices that bring us into the presence of the throne of grace at the feet of Christ. Knowing Scripture and theology is all for the end of our relationship in worshiping our King and fighting for our delight in Him, knowing our weakness and frailty and proneness to wander and our proneness to doubt and despair. Lord have mercy on us all.