Has God Forgotten to Be Gracious?
Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion? (Psalm 77:9)
Psalm 77, written by Asaph, begins with a profound expression of anguish. The psalmist has found himself in a terribly difficult and painful situation. He has cried out to God, even shouting and praying all night. When he thinks of God, he moans with unfulfilled longing (77:1-3).
Then Asaph begins to ask questions that are stunning in their honesty: “Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?” (77:7-9). These six questions all can be answered by the simple word “No.” No, God has not rejected Asaph forever. No, God will not “never be kind” to him again. And so forth and so on. After all, when God revealed his essential nature and hallowed name to Israel, he made it clear that he is “The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness” (Exo 34:6). So why would Asaph wonder if God had forgotten to be gracious? And why would this question show up in the Psalms, the inspired word of God?
Psalm 77 models for us exceptional honesty in prayer. It shows us that God cares more about our openness with him than that we get all of our theology right when we talk with him. Oh, to be sure, orthodoxy matters a great deal. But sometimes our efforts to say all the right things in prayer compromises our genuineness. The Psalms in general, and Psalm 77 in particular, encourage us to pray with “no holds barred.” We don’t have to be afraid of asking God tough questions, or even of challenging his goodness. What God wants from us, is not all the right words, but us . . . our full, true selves. God wants relationship, not with some whitewashed image of ourselves, but with us.
When we pray honestly, holding nothing back, we enter into a deeper and truer relationship with the living God. In the context of this relationship we will discover, again and again, that God has not forgotten to be gracious. Yes, sometimes his grace seems strangely hidden. But we who know God through Christ can always be sure that nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love and grace.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you ever prayed like Asaph in Psalm 77? When? What happened? Do you feel free to express what’s really going on inside of you in prayer? Why or why not?
PRAYER: Thank you, dear Father, for the example of Asaph. His honesty inspires me to tell you the truth, not only when I’m rejoicing, but also when I am hurting, worrying, or doubting.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being our great High Priest. You understand our weaknesses and temptations. Because of what you have done for us as Priest and Sacrifice, we have even greater reason to come before the Father with boldness, confident that we will find mercy and grace at his throne.
All praise be to you, Triune God, because you will never forget to be gracious! Hallelujah! Amen.
A P.S. from Mark
My book No Holds Barred: Wrestling With God in Prayer explores the themes of this reflection in much greater depth.