"Your footprints were not seen." The phrase stands out, reminding us of that poster we used to hang in kitchen entitles "Footprints". You know the one. How God is supposed to walk alongside us in all that we do, like two rows of footprints on the beach. And how the author complains that when things got really bad it seemed that God had deserted him as evidenced by a single line of footprints on the beach. And how God replies, My son, that was when I was carrying you.
The phrase comes from Psalm 77 v 11. The psalm was written by Asaph during the reign of King David, at a time were going badly for Israel. Asaph is having nights made sleepless with worry. He tried to pray, but comfort never came. His despair was very great. He could not pray. He began to doubt his faith. Unfailing love was failing. An omniscient God was forgetting. A merciful God was without mercy. A truthful God was breaking his promises. A God who claimed to have chosen Israel was now rejecting her. A compassionate God had become an angry one.
Don't we think like that? We contrast God's reputed attributes with what we see happening in the world. How can a God of love allow suffering like we see in Darfur, or in the camps in the Congo, or the tsunami in Thailand, or 9/11, or those poor children in Austria, or whatever the newspapers light on next. Has our God forgotten how to be compassionate? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?
What Asaph did next was to remember the past. In particular he remembered how the Children of Israel had been shepherded across the Red Sea dry shod, while Pharaoh's army had been drowned by the returning waves. He remembered how Moses and Aaron had led them through the wilderness of Sinai. He remembered how they had been delivered to the promised land and how the promised land had been delivered to them through Joshua.
"I entered every fashionable pulpit in London and I could scarcely distinguish the Christian Gospel in one of them. I was more likely to hear a message from Confucius, Mohammad or Krishna than from Christ."
"It is generally agreed, said a Bishop, that there can be no new enquiry into Christ. The Christian Church is fit only for ridicule or for mirth."
Six student have been sent down from Oxford University. Their crime was holding a private Bible study in their rooms.
These are quotes not from the 2000s but from the 1730s.
Shortly afterwards, God raised up George Whitfield, John and Charles Wesley, Howell Harris, John Berridge, William Romaine, Daniel Rowland, Henry Venn (who also found time to play cricket for England) and in America, Jonathan Edwards. Not only was the church revived, but the course of history was changed. England was spared the terrors of the French Revolution. The great social movements of the eighteenth century were spawned. Henry Venn's son, John, became Rector of Clapham where among his congregation came William Wilberforce. Slavery was ended. Women and children left the coal mines and the ragged children were given an education in the Sunday Schools of Robert Raikes Prisons were reformed. The great missionary societies were formed and the gospel taken to China, India and Africa.
When we remember our past we have hope for the future. But we have more to remember than just the works of men. We can look back, not like Asaph to the parting of the Red Sea, but to the rending of the Temple veil. That moment when one was sacrificed for all. Jesus has demonstrated once and for all that God is love, that we are the object of his love. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.
Feel abandoned by God? Remember what he has done. Can't see his footprints? He is there nevertheless.