Seeing the Flock Around Me
The psalm reading in church last Sunday helped me remember something. I had been thinking much about the challenging fact that what we believe in is invisible. The more we live believing in "things that are unseen," as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:18, the more we have the sense of peering into the dark longing to see. Faith is believing that what we can’t see is really there, and living like it is there, as Hebrews 11 makes clear. It is enough that we have God’s word on what is there—his word which made everything we see out of what we cannot see (Heb. 11:3).
Psalm 77 reminded me of the importance of what we can see. That psalm seems to end so strangely. Hearing it read aloud, I marveled again at its beautiful shape—as the speaker moves from a despairing cry to an affirmation of God’s marvelous works. After a final celebration of God’s redemption pictured in the Exodus, the psalmist might logically have ended the way many of the psalms end—looking up to God with an outpouring of praise. Instead, he ends with words that pull our eyes back down to earth:
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
I love that seemingly strange ending. The way out of despair for the psalmist does not lead simply to looking up to God. The “I” dominating the first part of Psalm 77 does change to “you,” as he adjusts his focus outside of himself. But that change in focus doesn’t leave him alone with God. It places him securely in the company of God’s people—in the flock and with the shepherds of the flock in sight. The hope of Psalm 77 is the witness of God’s redemptive work in the lives of Jacob and Joseph (v. 15) and Moses and Aaron (v. 20). This is what we can see—this cloud of witnesses to the unseen reality that is there and shaping history even when we can’t see it:
Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen (Ps. 77:19).
Ultimately, of course, the wonder is that God was made flesh, so that we have seen his glory, perfectly revealed at the Cross and in the Resurrection. God clearly means to show himself to us, as he has done from the beginning. The TGC women’s conference next June is shaped around key passages where God actually shows himself to his people, and the invisible is unveiled. For good reason those passages climax in the book of Revelation, where every eye will see our risen Lord and Savior shining in all his glory.
All Around Us
Even looking forward, though, I’m glad for the reminder that what we can see now is God’s people around us. It is on earth and in these bodies—and in the body of Christ—that we are called to live out our faith and show his glory. I’ve just been reading George Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards. We tend to think of Edwards as alone in his study or out in nature communing with God and composing his theological masterpieces. Indeed this was often the case; he regularly spent 13 hours daily working in his study—which makes Sarah the heroine of the story, but that’s another story.
The further you read in this biography, however, the more Marsden expertly uncovers the close, complex connections of Edwards to the believers of his day in his congregations, throughout New England and America, and on the global church scene. The flock among which Edwards lived and which he aimed to help lead was full of struggle and controversy as well as growth and revival. The point is that Edwards forged his masterpieces in the context of real life with the flock. That life can be messy as well as glorious, as we all know. But we can't just look beyond it; we are called to live in it, face to face with the other sheep.
The flock is what I need to see and where I need to be. We’ll see it all, after this little while. And what we’ll see won’t be something other than the earth and the bodies of God’s people; they’ll just be new and whole. The reminder in Psalm 77 of what I can see now actually makes more real the promise of what we shall see soon: a recreated earth, resurrected bodies, all in the full presence of Jesus whom we shall see face to face and who will dwell with us his people. We’ll see it all. For now, for a little while, we’re in a cloud—but it is a cloud full of glory and full of witnesses to spur us on.
I’m glad I was in church last Sunday.