It’s one thing to be racked by our doubts, wondering if God exists, if He cares, if he can do anything for us in our uncertainties. But to feel that our doubts are sinful, that we must keep them hidden, compounds our distress.
The truth is that doubt is the not infrequent experience of aspiring saints, while the smug or narcissistic or spiritually complacent know little about it. Bible characters like Esau, Samson, Absalom and Herodias give little evidence of wrestling with doubts. They are all supremely self-confident people.
But the prophet Elijah is a different case. So are Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and John the Baptist. Even Jesus had his times of doubt. No one ever trusted the Father more implicitly, yet, from his cross he cried, “My God, My God, Why…?”
There are many doubter’s laments in the Psalms. At least 40 of the 150 are called psalms of lament, and some are from people wrestling with doubt.
Psalm 77 is one of them.
This psalmist is in such distress that he cannot sleep at night. He holds God responsible for even this, since for the Hebrew mind God is ultimately involved in every human situation.
The psalmist cries out in his anguish, “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in his anger shut up his compassion? (Psalm 77:9 RSV).
This psalm must at first have been the solitary cry of one believer. But when the psalms were collected, eventually to become the Old Testament hymn book, this one was seen as a cry common to many devout hearts. Thus it was made a part of the Old Testament worship literature. Now all doubters, New Testament doubters too, may use it.
But it is not for committed unbelievers. They are inclined to resist being nudged in the direction of faith. Answer one question and they will likely raise another.
No, Psalm 77 is for devout doubters. Doubters want to believe God is their friend, that God is there for them.
But they struggle to see how things could be as they are if God really cared. Doubters have faith but it is under assault, conflicted, strained.
Frederick Robertson, great preacher of an earlier generation, dealt with black, sometimes nearly overwhelming, doubts. His advice?
“Obedience! Leave those thoughts [of doubt] for the present … Force yourselves to abound in little services; try to do good to others; be true to the duty that you know …”
Good advice, but there is an even deeper word in this psalm. “I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord,” he says, “yea, I will remember thy wonders of old” (Psalm 77:11 RSV).
This psalmist avoided the peril of self-absorption by meditating, principally on the mighty acts of his God at the Red Sea.
We can go one better. We have the record of the mighty acts of Jesus to call to mind – his perfect life, his love for the oppressed, his healings – and particularly his deliverance from death at Joseph’s tomb. The Holy Spirit, by such meditations, can renew our faith.
When trying to overcome oppressive doubts, in addition to personal meditation, it is also good to go where a company of believers is worshiping the living God. Attempt to share in their faith as they sing and pray. Join with them and listen to the word of God preached. You will be among friends. On any given Sunday, there will surely be others there too who need to activate Psalm 77.
Photo credit: “Betsssssy” (via flickr.com)