Well, despite the narky man in the Grauniad announcing that the Bible is bad literature, I've got to say that every now and then I come across something in Scripture that just "speaks to me" in a literary sense. Now, the Bible is all God speaking to us, but now and again something just gets you. It happened to me preparing my sermon on Psalm 77 last week (I'd link the audio for you, but a gap between ministry trainees means that it hasn't quite got onto the website yet.)
I'm not sure I had ever read it before and it's a heartbreaker. It describes the familiar experience for many of us, of asking God to help you, change things, make something better and it not happening. And so, even your Christian life becomes a negative thing, because God seems far away like he is ignoring you.
Inevitably, Asaph asks the obvious question: can I really believe that God loves me? Is God really as kind and generous as he says he is? Because it doesn't feel like it.
Asaph doesn't solve his problem as such - he just works out a way to keep going and that way is to rest assured that God is as good as he says he is because of what he has done
. That's all we have got.
However, in saying that Asaph (the Holy Spirit) comes up with this amazing piece of poetry:
The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
You see what is going on here? Asaph is recalling the huge storm that God used to help his people cross the sea when they had been rescued from Egypt. And he describes it as a terrifying supernatural experience. No Sunday school story here: the storm was huge and terrible, and the seas parted, the people had to "follow God through" even though they couldn't see him.
Can you imagine it? Moses and Aaron saying "God's leading us through - it's safe". And the people saying "er..where are his footprints then?" It can't have felt much like God was a gracious compassionate and merciful God at that moment in time - more like a scary monster! And yet, verse 20 tells us what was really going on: God was shepherding his flock through Moses and Aaron. It didn't feel like, but that was what was happening.
What a great poetic word picture of what difficult times in the Christian life: it doesn't look like what is going on round me demonstrates God's love and compassion for me but nevertheless, shepherding his flock is
what he is doing.
God is looking after us, even when we don't feel like it, when we can't see him and we are following him through the storm, where we can't see his footprints. Good to know.