Do you ever feel as though you need to remind God of what is going on? I know it sounds ludicrous to remind the all-knowing God about anything, but we still often feel the need to do it. Even the psalmists did this. Take Psalm 74 for instance, where Asaph tells God to remember that he chose Israel and that the enemy continues to mock him. I assume God didn’t forget anything, but due to certain events, Asaph felt that God still needed a reminder.
Asaph begins by reminding God that he was the one to bring his chosen people, Israel, to Mount Zion where the temple was built so he could dwell with his people (74:2). But then Asaph transports us to a time long after the temple’s construction to the time when the temple was destroyed. Asaph reminds God of how his enemies came into the temple, smashing and burning it, defiling the very place in which God said he would dwell forever. Then in the aftermath of the destruction, the Israelites lived in ignorance and grief wondering if God would ever act on their behalf again. God did not tell them how long they would have to endure this persecution, nor did he give any signs that he would act to stem the tide of destruction. Their pain and questions were met with the silence of God.
A few months ago, I read a book titled Silence. The central theme of the book is the silence of God in the face of suffering. It tells the story of two 17th century priests who traveled to Japan to find their mentor who had apostatized. The book describes many trials and struggles the priests endured as they searched for their mentor. Along the way (spoiler alert), one of the priests dies trying to save some villagers who were being tortured and eventually the surviving priest apostatized by stepping on an image of Christ. While the book does not provide any answers, it provides an unforgettable picture of a life lived under the silence of God.
I believe Asaph felt that same silence when he penned Psalm 74. But unlike the priest from the book, Asaph does not recant his faith nor does he despair. Instead, Asaph sings of how God brings salvation to the earth. He reminds God that he has power over natural disasters and that he brings water and drought, day and night, sun and moon, and summer and winter. Ultimately, these serve to remind God that he is the one who sets boundaries for the forces of nature.
But these reminders about the impersonal forces of nature also serve as a reminder that God sets limits on the evil forces in this world. It is a message much like that found in the book of Job where we understand that while God allows Satan to work against God’s chosen people, he also limits Satan’s work (Job 1:12; 2:6). However, we must realize these limits are often beyond what we can handle. But I think that’s the point, for unless we experientially realize, not just intellectually, that we actually need God, it will be impossible for us to fully place our trust in him. If we believe we have an extra reserve of strength for those moments when we are pushed to our limit then we will never learn to fall into his arms and trust.
These are hard words to hear, and even harder to write, for even as I write them I know my life’s greatest frustrations are in those places where I know I can do nothing to assuage the pain and longing. And to be honest, I don’t like realizing how helpless I really am. I want to be able to reach down and pull myself up out of the muck of life and say that I did it my way, but that is not the world in which we live. We live in a world where God loves us so much that he wants us to experience pain and suffering: not because he’s a sadist, but because it is only in those moments that we will ever be able to know the love of God and to fully trust him.
Thus, Psalm 74 in which Asaph reminds God of his commitment to the nation of Israel, of his power over the forces of nature, and how foolish evil men continue to mock him, is not really a psalm to remind God of anything at all. It was written to remind us that even in the silence, God is still committed to us, he still holds power over the forces of nature, and he still limits evil men. It serves as a reminder to us that evil men are really foolish men: they are not wise nor are they powerful. It serves as a reminder to us that it is only by God’s grace and strength that will we ever be able to endure the pain in the darkest times of this life. And finally, it serves as a reminder to us that he, the King from long ago, will bring salvation.