HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg OHPM, ROMC
“Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.” Psalm 36:5
The faithfulness of God is one of the strong truths of the Old Testament. It is one distinction of the Jewish faith, in contrast with the ancient pagan faiths. Pagan gods were not generally faithful whether in Babylon or Greece. They were immoral, careless of their promises regardless of their pledged word. And the wonderful thing about the Jewish faith was that the God of the Jew was always faithful both to His covenant and to His children.
Such a magnificent and upholding thought sprang not only from personal experience, but it was also interwoven with the fact that the Jewish religion was historical. The Jew could look back over the tracts of time and discover there the faithfulness of God in a way the brief life might never show. As he recalled the story of the past, of Abraham travelling to the promised land, of the slaves in Egypt rescued from their slavery, of the desert pilgrimage of forty years, one thing that was stamped upon his heart, never to be erased by any finger, was that Jehovah was a faithful God.
That thought sustained the psalmist, and with him, all the saints of the old covenant. In the Old Testament, the word “faith” is rare, but the word “faithfulness” occurs a score of times. And here the psalmist, in his poetic way, and like Jesus, drawing his images from nature, says, “Thy faithfulness reacheth to the clouds.”
The Clouds of Scripture
One thinks, for instance, of the clouds of Scripture in such a passage as the Ascension story. When our Lord ascended to the Father, a cloud received Him from the disciples’ sight (Act 1:9). That was a lonesome and desolating hour when the cloud wrapped around Him and He was gone. They had loved Him so and leaned upon Him so that I take it they were well-nigh broken-hearted. Then the days went on, and they discovered that the engulfing cloud was not the end of everything. It, too, was touched by the faithfulness of heaven. He had promised to be with them always, and He was faithful to that promise still. He had said, “I will manifest Myself to you,” and that promised word was verified. The cloud had come and engulfed their Lord, and they thought the sweet companionship was over. But His faithfulness reached unto the clouds.
The Clouds of History
Again, one thinks of the clouds of history, for history has its dark and cloudy days. For instance, what a cloudy day that was when the Jews were carried off to Babylon. Exiled to a distant, heathen land, they thought that God had forgotten to be gracious. They said: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God.” It was not the hardship of exile that confounded them. It was that God seemed to have broken His covenant and had been found unfaithful to His promises. By the waters of Babylon, they sat and wept. They hung their harps upon the willow trees. How could they sing of the faithfulness of God when He had let them go into captivity?
And yet the day was coming when the instructed heart would rise to another view of that captivity and say: “Thy faithfulness reacheth to the clouds.” Memory became illuminative. Things lost grew doubly precious. Distance helped them to a clearer vision of what sin was and what God was. And then on that dark and cloudy day came the ringing of prophetic voices with the message of ransom and return (Isaiah 35:1-10). They were not forgotten. They were not rejected. Their way was not passed over by God. Sunny days did not exhaust His faithfulness. It reached even to the clouds. And of how many a dark day of history (as when we revert in thought to the World Wars) can we set to our seal that this is true! Isn’t this we say today when we set a gap between us and our God? Isn’t this what happens when we turn back to the cares of this wicked world? But His faithfulness remains sure and firm.
The Clouds Over Our Lives
Again, one thinks how this great truth applies to the clouds that hang over our human lives. What multitudes can say, in adoring gratitude, “Thy faithfulness hath reached unto the clouds”? Just as in every life are days of sunshine when the sky is blue and all the birds are singing, when every wind blows from where the Lord is and when we feel it is good to be alive, so in every life are shadowed days when the sun withdraws its shining for a season and the clouds return after the rain. It may be a time of trouble in the family or of great anxiety in business, the time when health is showing signs of failing or when the chair is empty and the grave is full. It may be the time when all that a man has lived for seems washed away like a castle in the sand. It may be the day of unexpected poverty.
How unlooked for often are the clouds of life. They gather swiftly like some tropical thunderstorm. We confidently expect a cloudless day, and before evening the sky is darkened. And yet what multitudes of folk as they look backwards, with much experience in life, can take our text and in quiet adoring gratitude claim it as the truth of their experience. You thought (don’t you remember thinking?) that God had quite forgotten to be gracious. Possibly you were tempted to deny Him or secretly to doubt His care for you. But now, looking back upon it all, you have another vision and another certainty, just as the experienced psalmist had. If there are any of those who read these lines for whom this is the dark and cloudy day, who are anxious and distressed, who says in the morning, “Would God that it was evening”–have faith. Do not despair. The hour is nearer than you think when you also will say with David, “Thy faithfulness reacheth to the clouds.”