Something happens that shakes our confidence in what God has said, causing us to waver over what we’ve understood to be true about him or his character. This uncertainty produces anxiety and fear. In an effort to quell our anxiety, our mind becomes an incessant investigator, diligently searching for answers that will restore our confidence (Psalm 77:6).
His soul was in such turmoil he could not sleep. So confused and disturbed were his emotions (and the questions that fueled them), he couldn’t capture them all in words. He wasn’t experiencing a generalized, undefined depression. He mentioned no specific enemy threatening his life. The person he was in anguish over was God. When Asaph penned Psalm 77, he was experiencing a crisis of faith.
I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak. (Psalm 77:1–4)
Why was Asaph so troubled? Because from his perspective it appeared God had decided to abandon his promises to Israel. And if God doesn’t keep his word, those who trust in him build the house of their faith on the sand — a very disturbing thought.
You Hold My Eyelids Open
Many who have endured a faith crisis recognize the experience Asaph describes. Something happens that shakes our confidence in what God has said, causing us to waver over what we’ve understood to be true about him or his character. This uncertainty produces anxiety and fear. In an effort to quell our anxiety, our mind becomes an incessant investigator, diligently searching for answers that will restore our confidence (Psalm 77:6).
Such anxiety can rob us of sleep. It did for Asaph. During the day, other responsibilities, activities, and people require our attention, offering some distracting respite. But in the dead of night, it’s just us and our troubled thoughts. So we lie awake in bed or pace a dark room with our figurative (or literal) “hand . . . stretched out [toward God] without wearying,” and our “soul refus[ing] to be comforted” (Psalm 77:2).
Refusing to be comforted? Is that okay? Asaph’s example here doesn’t endorse every inconsolable moment we have. We all battle sinful unbelief. But this psalm, I believe, is not a clinic in sinful unbelief, but in honest, anguished spiritual wrestling. There can come desperate moments in life — and we’ll see shortly just how desperate Asaph’s moment was — where telling our turmoil-afflicted soul to “hope in God” (Psalm 43:5) doesn’t bring quick comfort, because at that moment we’re wondering if God can be hoped in. This is why Asaph says, “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints” (Psalm 77:3).
Before we go on, we simply need to let this sink in: Asaph’s faith in God was shaken, the resulting anxiety was keeping him awake at night (he even told God, “You hold my eyelids open”), and this experience made it into the canon of Scripture. There’s a reason God preserved this psalm for us.
Has God Forgotten to Be Gracious?
Psalm 77 doesn’t tell us what was fueling Asaph’s distress. But Psalm 79, also attributed to Asaph, very likely does:
O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
They have given the bodies of your servants
to the birds of the heavens for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.
They have poured out their blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there was no one to bury them.
We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
mocked and derided by those around us. (Psalm 79:1–4)