We love the idea of a powerful God who reaches out to organise events to our satisfaction: and right now, we could really use a God like this. A God who ends world hunger, ensures justice for every situation, waves a hand to make climate change and the pandemic simply disappear, and all without us doing a thing. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of this God in Scripture.
Instead, we encounter a God who rails against injustice (but injustice keeps happening); enters into suffering (but suffering keeps happening); weeps with the bereft (but grief keeps happening); and reaches out primarily to touch and heal human hearts and minds. The outward circumstances may continue unchanged, but the inward experience of these circumstances is new. So yes, God changes things: but these changes come about when God-transformed people engage with the world in new, life-giving, ways.
We see this in Psalm 77. In the first half, the writer describes in agonising detail her grief and pain. She cannot sleep; she cannot speak; she wonders if God has rejected her forever. Yet in faith she affirms, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” That is, it’s not the outward circumstances but her experience of them which has changed; and this came about when she remembered and meditated on God’s work. For in Hebrew literature, the emphasis lies not at the end of a piece of writing (as in English), but at the centre. Here, the Psalm balances a description of pain with an equally long description of God’s deeds (not seen in this excerpt); the affirmation lies between these two descriptions and therefore is the climax of the Psalm. So make yourself comfortable, then read the Psalm through slowly, aloud if possible.
I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
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.
I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah
You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.
I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:
“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God? (Ps. 77:1-13)
If you, too, are struggling, I invite you to engage in an exercise which follows the pattern of the Psalm. Tell God about your pain, and how it affects you. Can you sleep? Can you eat? Do you feel forsaken? What questions or demands do you have of God? Like the Psalmist, make a list. Then reflect: Where have you seen God at work in the world? That is, where have you seen pain transformed into gift; truth lighting up a dark place; new life emerging from death; an act of forgiveness which changed a life? Write about these things, too, as many items as of your pain. Then meditate on them; and may God gradually transform your grief and pain into something life-giving, something good.
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