The Psalms are anything but bland or tame. Their rawness mixed with reverence sometimes shocks us, stirring us to more authenticity and awe in our relationships with God.
Psalm 74 shook me this week, as an ancient writer named Asaph, gave words to the struggle in my heart. He alternates between searching questions (spoken out of pain, confusion, and longing for the restoration only God can bring) and shining statements and appositives of faith. Even though devastation seems perpetual (Hebrew word meaning eternal, enduring, everlasting), Asaph continues to call himself and the rest of God’s people God’s flock, his purchased heritage, his doted upon dove, and his cause, affirming his faith in his God.
After beginning this particular psalm with with a pair of achingly honest questions (“O God, why do you cast us off forever?” and “Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?”), the writer takes us on two very different tours: one through the ruins of what was intended to be God’s place of worship and the other through the faithfulness of God in creation.
A Tour of the Perpetual Ruins
Asaph prods his God, asking him to arise, to direct his steps to the perpetual ruins, to see the thorough and pervasive destruction caused by the hands of enemies (Psalm 74:-8). While Asaph was likely walking around in literal ruins of a literal temple, for those on the other side of life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the temple takes on a different meeting. Every believer is a temple, the place where God’s presence resides.
A short tour through the grounds of every believer’s heart reveals ruins – places where abuse, neglect, sickness, grief, fears, and sin patterns have left their marks, places where the intricately-shaped image of God in each has been desecrated. A quick glance over the faces and even a cursory hearing of the hearts of a local church congregation can often feel like a tour of what seems to a be a place of perpetual ruins: broken marriages, sick children, scars from abuse and racism, mental illness, and myriad other ruins.
With Asaph, we cry out to the Lord, “Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the fold of your garment, and destroy them [our enemies the flesh, the world, and the devil]” (Psalm 74:11).
A Tour of God’s Sovereign Power
As is true of many psalms, even some psalms of lament, there is a slight shift in perspective, a hinge verse. Asaph looks up from the very real ruins to the even-more real God and King who presides even over these places of seemingly-perpetual devastation.
“Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth” (Psalm 74:12).
Thus begins a very different tour: a tour of God’s faithfulness as displayed through creation (Psalm 74: 13-17). The same God who divided up the sea, opened up springs and brooks, and strung the heavenly lights still stands in sovereign control over even these places of ruin.
This reality does not alter the actual realities of the present circumstances, but it gives the psalmist hope that the Lord will remember and make all things right (Psalm 74:18). That he would have regard for the covenant he himself had initiated with his children (Psalm 74:20).
The psalm ends in the same way it began, though from a more confident heart: a call for God to get up, to act, to move on behalf of his people (Psalm 74:22).
Jesus’s Tour of the Earth
God did move. He heard. He not only took his hand from the fold of his heavenly garments, he took on human hands and allowed them to be nailed to the cross. He arose and set his face like flint to go to Jerusalem where a cross awaited him, where he allowed the greatest injustice ever committed to done to him. He did so to secure for us perpetual peace with the Father. One day, he will return to fully restore the ruins and devastations of many generations (Isaiah 61:1-4).
Until then, we can know that he walks with us through the ruins. Even though the ruin feels perpetual, they are punctuated. They will end. They will be swallowed up by his reign of perpetual and perfect peace (Isaiah 25:6-12).