Theme: Asking Questions
In this week’s lessons we are reminded that when we are discouraged and God seems distant, we are to remember who God is, what he has done in the past, and what he promises to do in the future.
Scripture: Psalm 77:1-20
But at least he has begun to think about God, which is what his memories of past days inevitably lead him to do. For whether he senses the presence of God with him now, at least he did then and he had reason to be happy. Ah, but that is just the problem, isn’t it? He was happy with God then. He is not now. God seems to be utterly absent, to have abandoned him. And what he is afraid of is that this apparent abandonment will go on forever. He is afraid that he will never get out of his depressed state and that depression will only lead to blank despair.
So he asks a series of questions that give voice to the very root of his dismay. There are six of them (vv. 7-9), and they are all rhetorical: “Will the Lord reject us forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
Well, what of it? Does the Lord reject his own forever? Can he ever cease to love those he has once loved? Has his character changed so that he is no longer merciful? Even to ask such questions is to answer them. The answer is, Of course not. God does not change. God does not break his promises. His mercies are new every morning. Therefore, if the psalmist does not believe that God is favorable, it must be because he is seeing things incorrectly. He is the one who is wrong, not God. As the Apostle Paul was to write, “Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).
Remember that we are looking at the pronouns and other references to God in each stanza. Here we can do so usefully again. In the last stanza “God” began to be considered, though in a negative way. In this stanza references to God predominate: “the Lord” (v. 7), “God” (v. 9) and the pronouns “his” or “he” throughout (six times).
The questions in this stanza are still negative in form, of course. They are asking whether God has forgotten. But even in this form it is better to ask them than not to ask them, because asking them sharpens the issue and pushes us toward the right, positive response. Alexander Maclaren insists that asking such questions is good. He writes, “Doubts are better put into plain speech than lying diffused and darkening, like poisonous mists, in his heart. A thought, be it good or bad, can be dealt with when it is made articulate. Formulating vague conceptions is like cutting a channel in a bog for the water to run. One gets it together in manageable shape, and the soil is drained.”1 What is impossible to deal with is dissatisfaction that will not express itself openly or submit to reason.
1Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 2 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), p. 376.
How does knowing God’s character help us in dark days?
What are the psalmist’s rhetorical questions? What do they lead him to conclude?
Why is it better to express doubt than to ignore questions you may have?
Application: If you are going through a dark period now and feel that God is absent or indifferent, what evidences of his compassion and love from the past can you draw on to remind yourself that he has not abandoned you and is at work for your good?