After my first third world experience, I believed in God, but questioned God’s goodness. How could a good God allow so much suffering? It wasn’t the doubt of new faith, but the doubt of a growing faith. The writer of today’s psalm is undergoing a similar experience, leading him through a crisis of faith.
Psalm 77 is a composite psalm. It includes a lament (vs. 1-10) and a hymn of praise (11-20). It is a psalm for all who have doubts. The writer is suffering not because of a personal affliction or wrong, but because of a communal loss. He looks at the suffering of the Hebrew community and questions the nature of God.
He wonders: Has God changed? “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” (10) Is God no longer gracious and compassionate? What of his steadfast love and promises of old? “Has his steadfast love for ever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has his anger shut up his compassion?” (8-9)
He is down and depressed and unable to sleep. “I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. You hold my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” (3-4) His thoughts keep him awake. “I consider the days of old, I remember the years long ago. I commune with my heart in the night, I meditate and search my spirit.” (4-5) He wonders, “Will the Lord spurn for ever and never again be favorable?” (7)
He is in a crisis of faith where nothing helps. “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.” He tries to pray, meditating on God, to no avail. The only thing that helps him is to remember God’s great deeds of the past. “You are the God who works wonders, who has manifested your might among the peoples. You did with your arm redeem your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.” (14-15)
The lives of Jacob and Joseph were far from easy. Jacob spent years as a fugitive, fleeing his brother, Esau’s, wrath. Joseph was sold into slavery as a youth. And yet both became great patriarch of the Hebrew nation.
The psalm ends abruptly on a positive note, seeing God as a shepherd, leading his flock. “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” (20)
We all have times of doubt. Doubt isn’t the enemy of faith but rather a call to greater faith. Having lived through doubt about the nature of God, the psalmist’s faith is stronger. Having lived through my own periods of doubt and spiritual crisis, my faith is stronger.
Verse 19 in the psalm reminds us that God’s ways are often invisible to human eyes, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters, yet your footprints were unseen.” God’s ways require faith to believe. Are we strong enough to allow doubt to strengthen our faith?
Tell me about your own struggles with doubt. I’d love to hear from you.