Read the newspaper, turn on the news, open the news app on your phone or scroll through your Twitter feed and you will find a world capable of filling us with anxiety, worry and uncertainty. From church shootings to tax code changes to military tensions with North Korea, we are reminded daily of what life is like in a post-Genesis 3 world where everything is tainted by sin. In that kind of a world, we can be absolutely certain there will be uncertainty. This is why we have news alerts on our phone and 24-hour news networks, to inform us of all the uncertainties that occurred in our country and around the world throughout the day. Likewise, our individual lives are filled with a list of uncertainties that we take with us to bed and are guaranteed to stare us in the face when we wake up in the morning.
The repetition of Psalm 136 encourages and emboldens our faith when we recognize that despite all of life’s uncertainties, we can be absolutely certain that God’s lovingkindness or steadfast love will endure forever. When we realize the unchanging love of God existed at the creation when He “spread out the earth above the waters” (v6), when He “made the great lights” (v7), when He brought Israel out from Egypt (v11) and when He “gave their land as a heritage” (v21), we can be confident it exists right now even in this current age. God’s lovingkindness does not change, it is not turned on or off, it is a constant state which is a permanent part of His divine attributes. In each verse, the psalmist does well to remind us that God’s lovingkindness did not simply exist in a specific event, but it is everlasting.
In each of these events in Israel’s history there were people who shared in a measure of uncertainty for the future, even despite God’s continual reassurance of His provision. Imagine the doubt, frustration and uncertainty involved with wandering in a desert for 40 years, not sure of what you might encounter. While the Israelites might have been able to notice the visible evidence of God’s love for them at each of these individual moments, when all of the successive events are stitched together it portrays a beautiful picture of God’s faithfulness to His people in each generation. If we are indeed His people who have believed through faith upon the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as our Savior from the wrath of God, then we can be certain of His lovingkindness. Perhaps your current circumstance causes a level of doubt in the existence of God’s lovingkindness. Even if you are struggling to see his lovingkindness now, I’m sure many of you are able to point out specific moments in the past where you have seen God’s lovingkindness clearly operating in your life.
However, we cannot miss an important element in these verses. This Psalm is not only about what God has done for individual people, but what he has done for an entire group of people. It was not just one man or one woman or one family who wandered through the wilderness, it was an entire group of God’s people, who experienced the trials, difficulties and uncertainties of their life together as one family.
As a community of people they were instructed by God to remind one another of His faithfulness and lovingkindness, not because they were perfect, but because of our sinful, natural tendency to give way to anxious feelings of uncertainty in life.
Yet, encouragement for one another was not based upon looking through a crystal ball to see what God would do, but reminding one another of what God had already done. In the end, it was not just individuals who could say thanks be to God, but an entire group of people who joined together in acknowledging this truth because they lived through it together.
We are not the first group of Christians to walk through life with uncertainties for the future. The history of this group of God’s people that we call the church is filled with countless stories of uncertainty, but more importantly it is filled with evidences of God’s lovingkindness. We are not alone in the journey, but we stand together as a group of God’s people who remind ourselves of God’s lovingkindness in the past and encouraging each other that the trajectory will not change in the future. Local churches are groups of people who walk on the journey of life together, not individually, but as a family who live through the difficulties and uncertainties together; bearing one another’s burdens. So along the way, we can look back together as a family of God saying “wow, give thanks to God, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”