Our sixteen-year-old son’s death threw us into the terrifying land of sorrow and doubt. Throughout our journey through the foreign land of grief, God has held us tightly in His grip. We learned that He is not afraid of our questions and even invites them. We take great comfort in the transparency of the Psalmists. They threw themselves on the mercy of God, trusting that doubts do not make us unworthy of His love. In our walk of faith, we learned that He seems to hold on to us even more tightly when we are wounded.
The Character of Doubt
The writer of Psalm 77 captures the character of doubt. The beginning of his prayer ends in soul weeping:
I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. Psalm 77:1
He just wants to know that God is listening; he labors to sense God’s presence in this midnight darkness. And yet in his cries for help, there is a paradox. He longs for God’s touch at the same time refusing comfort:
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. Psalm 77:2
It isn’t that he doesn’t want comfort; there is a spiritual disconnect. His soul agonizes because his faith feels almost non-existent. His weakness pulls me back into my own midnight darkness. I cried out to God and yet His Word seemed to mock me and the hymns that described His faithful love felt like salt in my wounds.
A Cluttered Mind
I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. Selah Psalm 77:3
Remembering God did not help immediately. There are two occasions when we might feel this sort of emptiness. First, if I am guilty and I conclude God is angry with me. Second, when I recall God’s past faithfulness and now interpret the events of my life as evidence of His anger toward me.
This man is too tired to articulate his pain:
You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. Psalm 77:4
His profound grief stuns him into silence. Sleeplessness gives way to a deep depression where he can no longer articulate his pain and explain his sorrow.
Longing for What Was
He yearns for a simpler day:
I thought about the former days, the years of long ago. Psalm 77:5
How I long for the days before our son’s death. Life was good. Though we struggled to pay our bills and raising children always brings its own difficulties, along with health and work issues, I always felt in control. No matter what the problem, I knew I could fix it. Marks’ death changed that mindset.
Songs in the Night
I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: “Will the Lord reject 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?” Selah Psalm 77:6-9
The writer recalls other hard times when the lights seemed to go out and how God taught him to sing at midnight. Compared to this event (whatever it was) those other times were only evening, a precursor to midnight. This sorrow did not take him to a place of God’s sweet presence but to a sense of abandonment by his heavenly Father. He is not only in an emotional crisis but is now drowning in a theological abyss. What he feels about God does not square with what he has been taught and embraced about the character and nature of God.
The Cure for Doubt
Out of desperation to feel the safety of the familiar, he decides:
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples.
He forces himself to push his feelings through the grid of his theology.
For the first time he shifts from calling God Elohim (God of all gods) to the word Yahweh – God of the covenant or promise. Meditating on the past works of God helped him understand the supernatural power and redemptive love of God. Every act of God intentionally leads to the cross of Christ.
Creating a Sanctuary
His meditation created a sanctuary where he began to realize God’s character.
It is not enough to recall what God has done. We must also think through the significance of His actions. Too many Christians skip this critical step in confronting doubt when life falls apart. Confronting doubt requires more than just listing the acts of God. We must consider, “What does this mean? Why is this act significant? What does it reveal about the character of God? Where is Jesus in this act? What bearing does it have on my life?”
Deep grief took me to that slow place of meditation. Soaking in God’s past history became medicine for my soul as I gradually grasped the deepness of God’s love and covenant keeping heart. This was not a once-and-for-all victory. Living by faith is daily and even today I must choose to meditate on the wonder of God’s love when doubt strikes.
In verses 15-20, the Psalmist meditates on specific times when the Israelites had no place to look for help but up – to God. He applies to his own life what he learns about the character of God in those events and concludes:
Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples. Psalm 77:13-14
Where are you in your faith journey, my friend? Is doubt crushing your soul? Soak in the Scriptures and choose to meditate on the history of God’s actions in the lives of His people. Ask Him to open your eyes to how each act reveals His unchanging faithful love and conclude with the Psalmist, there is no other god like our God.
He is sovereign and you can trust Him.
Used by permission of MARKINK Ministries. Visit www.MARKINC.org to find resources that will encourage and equip you for your journey through doubt.
Dr. Chuck Betters has been the pastor of Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bear,