Psalm 77: Journey through Doubt to Faith
After my first third world experience, I believed in God, but questioned God’s goodness. How could a good God allow so much suffering? When I worked on my dissertation and interviewed adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I questioned God again. How could God allow innocent children to suffer so? It wasn’t the doubt of new faith, but the doubt of a growing faith. The writer of Psalm 77 is undergoing a similar experience, leading 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 forever and never again be favorable?” (7)
Doubt Leads to Faith Crisis
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.
Psalm 77 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)
Growing Stronger through Doubt
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. Adult survivors of childhood abuse who work through their abuse and how it has affected their image of God, come through the other side with a stronger faith. Having lived through my own periods of doubt and spiritual crisis, my faith is stronger.
Verse 19 in Psalm 77 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.
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Still Dancing, the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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