One of the most compelling parts of J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic novel, The Lord of the Rings, is when Aragorn, the hidden King of Gondor rides to that city’s deliverance through a fearsome road called “The Paths of the Dead.” No one had ever successfully passed that way before but Legolas the Elf, Gimli the Dwarf, and the Rangers of the Grey Company all were willing to follow their king through those dreadful depths. It may have seemed terrible but they were willing to go because Aragorn had told them, “We must go in . . . for if ever we come through this darkness, many leagues lie beyond, and every hour that is lost there will bring the triumph of” evil. The Grey Company was willing to follow their leader, Aragorn, through a dark and dangerous path, only because he was leading them.
Similarly, we live in dark times and are frequently filled with dread. Many of us have troubled hearts these days because we are living in troubling times. We’re struggling with the fear of illness and potential death. Some of us are dealing with grief for lost loved ones. Others of us have been spared illness and grief but are facing job loss and financial crisis. Some of us are distressed by racial turmoil and neighborhood violence. Why should we continue down these paths? Because we are following our King and His way is different than we might expect. He takes us through these trying times in His own way.
In my last blog post we began to look at Psalm 77: A Psalm for Troubled Hearts. We looked at two principles found in that Psalm. First, we need to express our troubled hearts to God in transparent, honest prayer (vv. 1-10). Second, we need to review God’s tremendous actions in the past as recorded in Scripture (vv. 11-12). As Asaph the Psalmist looked in Scripture, he remembered, reflected and meditated on God’s ways. It seems he was focused on reading the Torah and there he discovered five characteristics of God’s ways that would guide both his and our understanding of traveling through troubled times.
First, God’s way is distinctive. In v. 13 he writes, “God, your way is holy. What god is great like you?” When we read “holy” we automatically assume that it always has an ethical or moral sense. But the word literally means “set apart.” That’s why even inanimate bowls used in the tabernacle were called holy. They were set apart. In v. 13, it is saying that God is leading in ways that are set apart, or distinctive. When we choose a road to get to a destination, we generally choose the easiest, fastest, and safest highway. God’s way is different. He takes an alternate route to grow us into the people we need to be. Think of the Israel’s wilderness wanderings. I once heard someone say that when God led Israel through the wilderness, His path appeared to be a zig zag. Not necessarily the way we’d do it, but it’s God’s way.
Second, God’s way is powerful. Vv. 14-15 describe the Lord as One who “works wonders” and who reveals His “strength among the peoples.” It is with His “power” that He “redeemed (meaning delivered) His people.” The path God leads us on may be disquieting, even dangerous. But God’s power will be revealed to get us through. In fact, the Lord deliberately puts us into these troubling and trying circumstances so we can learn steadfastness and stability. And we’ll rejoice when we see Him work powerfully.
Third, God’s way is often through danger. The psalmist describes God leading Israel through the parting of the Red Sea. Not only did Israel face the dangerous Red Sea with an army pursuing them, but in vv. 16-19a the psalmist adds that the depths of the sea shook and there was thunder and lightning. As terrifying as it was, God’s way “went through the sea and Your path through the great waters.” It may seem that all the danger we face is random and meaningless. But God leads us through the flood so we can learn to be steadfast and to trust Him. Also, so we can praise Him once He has delivered us.
Fourth, God’s way is hidden. In the second half of v. 19, the psalmist declares that when God led Israel through the Red Sea, “Your footprints were unseen.” God was leading Israel the entire time the nation passed through the sea. Yet it seemed that God was hidden from them. Just as when we go through trying times, the Lord is leading and guiding but not necessarily through our five senses. God leads us through obedience to His Word and He is with us all the time. Just as in C.S. Lewis’s children’s novel, The Horse and His Boy, Shasta thought that through all his difficulties, he had always been alone. Only at the end of the story, did he learn that the great lion Aslan, had been protecting and guiding him throughout his life. Aslan had been active although his way was hidden from the boy. In the same way, God is leading us through these troubling times but His footsteps are unseen.
Finally, God’s way uses people. In v. 20, God is said to have led His people “by the hand of Aaron and Moses.” God makes His ways evident through His providential use of people. It’s why, even in these days of lockdown and distancing, we need to be in fellowship with our spiritual family. I heard a physician say that we ought not to call this a time of “social distancing” but “physical distancing.” We may be required not to be physically near others, but the blessing of our technological age is that we can worship through streaming, we can fellowship via Facetime, we can study together through Zoom. We need God’s people to provide strength and encouragement in these trying times.
Many years ago, my wife was facing the most frightening and troubling time of her life. She looked for encouragement from the Word and found it in Psalm 25:10. That verse reads, “All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth.” She learned this was true, even when the road has “lions and tigers and bears” on it. That’s also what we learn from Psalm 77—God’s path may be through troubling times but they are filled with His love and truth.