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Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.

Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?

Psalm 77:13

An earnest expression of praise to God! The psalmist is overwhelmed with the greatness of our God: who is so great a God as our God? What powerful display of God’s majesty and might could have moved him to speak such lofty words concerning our God? Read the Psalm. You will discover that these words were born out of some very painful and troublesome experiences. And that is the key to the real beauty of this passage.

Many are the different ways along which God leads His people. My life takes one direction, and yours another. At times they cross and we walk together, but soon they part again and we go our separate ways. But there is one universal truth that characterizes all our ways: much of the time they are difficult and troublesome. We will have our good times and our happy times in this life. In fact, the life of the child of God ought to be filled with the peace and contentment of salvation. But we will never escape the fact that this life is riddled with pains, troubles, and sorrows. We live in a sin-cursed earth, and sin inevitably brings sorrow and woe – not only to the wicked, but to the child of God too! It is little wonder that the Heidelberg Catechism characterizes this life as a “valley of tears.” It is. We cannot escape sickness and death; controversy in home, church, or work place; an incessant struggle against our own sin. How many times do we not experience great spiritual drought in our lives – depressing slumps which twist our hearts and souls! Certainly, God does not promise us that He will not send us hard times.

Who has not experienced at one time or another what the psalmist describes for us in verses 2-4 of this Psalm?. “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted…. Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled I cannot speak.” We all have had times when things troubled us so much we could not sleep. We have had times when it was difficult to pray because the thought of God troubled us. Is it not true that during the hardest of these times we may have asked ourselves questions very similar to the psalmist’s? “Will the Lord cast off forever? and will He be favorable no more? Is His mercy clean gone forever? doth His promise fail forevermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies?” Ah, the psalmist knows exactly how we feel at times in our lives!

But how can the psalmist make the jump from a heart overwhelmed with sorrow to a confession of the majesty and greatness of God? He can do that because in the midst of his depression he recalled to mind the way God leads His people. “I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” When the psalmist recalls all of this, then there is only one conclusion to which he can come in the midst of adversity and trouble: “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?” When the troubles of life confront us, then we must remember the God of our salvation and understand that His way is in the sanctuary.

“In the sanctuary” – that is a beautiful expression. The sanctuary was the innermost part of the temple, which was set aside or consecrated for the worship of God. As such the sanctuary was known as the place of highest communion between God and man. It was a type, therefore, of heaven, where God will dwell with His people in perfection. Thus, when we confess that God’s way is in the sanctuary, then we confess, in the first place, that His way is in the heavens. And if that way is in heaven, then it is far above us; that is to say, it is far beyond all human comprehension. So the psalmist says in this verse exactly what he says in a different way in verse 19 of this Psalm: “Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.”

But why is God’s way with us beyond our understanding? Why are His footsteps not known? It is because the way of which the Psalmist speaks in this Psalm is the way of God’s eternal counsel.

Before time began, from eternity, God carries with Him His eternal counsel for all things. In that counsel God has ordered everything (in its smallest detail) that takes place in this world. He has ordered all things in creation, in the history of this world, in the nations and in the church. Also in that counsel, however, God has ordered every little detail of our lives. These details are not arbitrary. They do not happen without reason. All are ordered by God to work toward the accomplishment of that one way of God: His glory by way of the salvation of His people and church. And that we must bear in mind first of all, when experiencing the troubles and difficulties of life. “Ere into being I was brought, Thy eye did see, and in Thy thought my life in all its perfect plan was ordered ere my days began” (Psalter 383, stanza 2). We fall before the God of heaven and earth and confess His transcendence and majesty! We bow before Him in humble submission because we know that the counsel of God stands forever, and He sends these troubles in our lives to accomplish His divine will. Never may we falter at this point: Jehovah reigns, and His will He accomplishes.

There is more, of course. We do not submit to God’s way because, after all, what else can we do? God will have His way with us no matter what we like. That surely is not our attitude! We must understand that there is more implied in the phrase “in the sanctuary” than what perhaps at first meets the eye. The sanctuary of the temple was that place where God dwelt in all His holiness and purity. It was a place that was dedicated and consecrated to the worship of the holy God of heaven and earth. Also implied, then, is this: “Thy way, O God, is in holiness.” This becomes clear when we realize that the name for God in this passage refers to His glory as seen in all of His infinite perfections or attributes. This too is what we must confess when the troubles and afflictions of life beset us: God’s way with us is always holy, just, and good. Never does God send us hardships in life because He takes delight in our woes, or because He is in Himself an evil God. Our troubles befall us because of our own sin. They are a result of man’s fall into sin. God is ever holy and just in His dealings with us.

And . . . He is ever merciful.

This is a third idea implied in the phrase, “in the sanctuary.” The sanctuary is that place where God meets with His people in intimate, covenant communion. Therefore, we can also interpret this phrase to say, “Thy way, O God, is in the midst of Thy church.” And that way in which God always deals with His church is in mercy. In other words, although we perhaps will never understand fully why we must walk through a valley of tears in this life, nevertheless we do know that God is always dealing with us in His love and mercy toward us. God is always One who suffers long with His children and pities them in their troubles and afflictions. And He sends those trials only because He knows that they will turn out to the profit and the salvation of His people. God uses the most troublesome difficulties in life for their good.

There are two reasons I can say that.

First of all, the Bible abundantly testifies to this in the lives of Gods people who are found on the pages of Holy Writ. Do you think that the fall into sin was a pleasant experience for Adam and Eve? Can you imagine the burden they had to bear their entire earthly lives? Yet, God used their sin to send our Savior, did He not? Do you think that enduring the Flood was a simple, painless matter for Noah and his family? It was the greatest of all trials for these saints! Yet, God sent the Flood to deliver the church and keep alive the seed of the covenant so Christ could be born. The same can be said of Sarah’s barrenness, Joseph’s being sold into Egypt, Israel’s bondage in Egypt, the captivity; and so the list can go on. All of these were hard and bitter experiences in the lives of God’s people; But God used all of these things for the good of His church and His people. God’s way with His people, even in affliction, is one of mercy.

We can say this with confidence for a second reason too. That reason is this: Christ. For us who are in Christ there is no more condemnation. God has poured out all of His wrath and condemnation upon Christ as He hung on the cross. And the result of this gracious work of our Savior is this: God never sends us anything in this life to punish us anymore. Chasten? Yes. But punish in wrath? No! Our sin and guilt are taken from us and we have become the objects of Gods favor and fellowship. He will never withhold any good thing from us. Never! Not even when He sends us hardships in this life! In faith we cling to that, too, amidst all the troubles that surround us.

It is then that we will be able to say, even when we are so troubled that we can not sleep, even through the midst of tears: “Who is so great a God as our God?” Our God, the God who has chosen us from eternity, the God who has loved us so much that He has sent His only-begotten Son to die for us, the God who guides and leads us every step of our lives, our God is the greatest! He is most excellent in power, in majesty, in holiness, and in love. Nothing can compare to Him. He alone is all glorious! He has revealed His greatness and excellence in the riches of His grace toward us in Christ. No, God has not in anger shut up His tender mercies! God’s mercies are new every morning! He has with His arm redeemed His people. He will not suffer our feet to be moved. O God, how great Thou art!