The road back from rebellion requires courage – emotional courage.
A child can exclaim, “I did it all by myself!” and we are proud of her. But now a lot of us who once exclaimed with pride, “I did it my way!” mumble and limp as regret pulls at our steps and turns us around.
In experimenting with ways other than God’s to sooth our pain and anxiety we have simply discovered alternate methods that work splendidly for a while. Then we realize that our thoughts and actions do affect others, especially the next generation.
In Psalm 44, the Sons of Korah remember the stories they were told of the great days of old. They recognize that those great victories were not just lucky breaks. They were God’s doing.
It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.
You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever. (Psalm 44:3-8 NASB)
But it’s complicated. Most of the rest of the Psalm is a cry for understanding. Why would God do this? Here we had things figured out and now he takes us into circumstances where the formulas of the old agreement don’t seem to hold up. The deal was this: we follow the rules and you, God, favour us and give us victory in everything. What are you doing? Where are you?
They protest their innocence:
All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.
Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness. (verses 17-19)
What if this is more than a trading relationship? What if God wants us to wrestle with him? What if the only way to go deeper into understanding his heart is to expose ours even if it means beating on his chest in frustration? What if the victory he wants us to experience is not just victory over our rivals, but victory over the enemy whose every moment is absorbed with schemes and distractions to keep us from our Creator — and the consequences of our choices to follow him. What if real victory requires real accounting and expression of real pain without defensiveness? What if God wants to root out the lies that separated us from him in the first place? What if he wants to rid us of self-reliance and pride?
What if facing those scary dark corners of our lives feels too much like being out of control? What if it feels like stepping off a plank balanced on the peak of whatever accomplishments we have gained in life and taking the risk of plummeting into the pit of despair?
But what if this dark night of the soul is the road to the light of his face?
Psalm 44 is a difficult read for those of us who want assurances and pretty promises of a healthy, prosperous life with perfect families, material wealth, and a great reputation to wave in the face of our detractors. What do we do with gut-wrenching cries like this?
I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge. (verses 15 and 16)
Dare we join the Sons of Korah who are also the Sons of Israel? God renamed Jacob (the supplanter) who had relied on sneaky ways to become a self-made man. After he dislocated his hip giving Jacob a permanent limp, the angel of the Lord told him his new name was Israel — “one who wrestles with God.” Dare we wrestle with God ourselves, crying out to him for help when nothing makes sense in any construct we can come up with on our own?
Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love. (verses 23-25)
What if, for some people, the way down is the way up?