If you needed any further evidence of my geekiness one of the my all time favourite tv programmes was Time Team. Time Team was a UK programme about archaeology, well I did say it was geeky. Most of the programme featured archaeologists who looked like old hippies standing in muddy trenches holding up odd looking stuff they found. It wasn’t just mindless tv I learned lots of things from Time Team. The one thing that I learned from my time team addiction that has always stuck in my mind is an apparent rule of archaeology. Here it is, read it slowly a couple of times so you get it- The rule is that “ absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
What they meant by that was that just because you can’t find physical evidence for a group of people being somewhere it doesn’t mean they weren’t there; the evidence could have been destroyed or not survived. This is why in my country we have lots of evidence for the Romans who were in Scotland for a short period of time because they left behind metal objects and big stone structures but little evidence of the earliest people in Scotland who were around for centuries because they lived in caves and didn’t have metal.
I was reading a Psalm that I have read loads of times before when I noticed something I hadn’t seen before, just a line “your footprints were not seen.” That line has provoked a lot of thoughts in my grey matter. This Psalm, Psalm 77 is written by someone who is going through a really difficult time in life, he talks about being in distress and crying out to God for help only to feel that God is ignoring or rejecting his pleas for help.
Will the Lord reject for ever?
Will he never show his favour again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished for ever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?’
I can identify with those sentiments. There have been times in my life when things have been really tough, when to say I have been “distressed” would have been an understatement and yet it felt like for all my prayers God wasn’t answering and I could see no evidence that He was at work.
Ever felt like that? That when it comes to you and your situation God has forgotten to be merciful and His promises have failed? You can’t see any tangible evidence of God caring for what you are going through or being at work to help? Maybe that is how you are feeling right at this moment.
Its when he is feeling like that, let down by God and unable to see any evidence for God’s care that the Psalmist does something interesting, he thinks about the Exodus, specifically the crossing of the Red Sea. He remembers how God helped his people when they were in deadly danger and as he thinks of them crossing the Red Sea, He remarks about God “your footprints were not seen.” Its almost the opposite of that famous FOOTPRINTS poems which is ubiquitous in Christian bookstores, where the poet sees only God’s footprints when they are going through a hard time.
God didn’t leave physical footprints in the sea bed of the Red Sea but that didn’t mean He wasn’t there and He wasn’t at work for His people when they were in danger. I can almost imagine Phil from Time Team excavating a trench in the sea bed of the Red Sea and someone asking him if he had found God’s footprints and him saying in his broad west country accent “Ah absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” God had been there the Psalmist could see that looking back.
As I look back on my life, in some of my blackest moments, when I have felt just like the writer of Psalm 77 I now see that despite the fact I couldn’t see God’s footprints, He was there and was at work and did bring me through. I think that there are times in our lives when we only see God’s presence in retrospect.
So, I would say to anyone feeling like God has abandoned them, feeling like His love is absent and His promises have failed, that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Although you can’t see Him right now, one day you will see that God was present and was at work in what you are going through right now. I would encourage you to do what the Psalmist did, reflect back on how in the past God has worked in your life but that the time “his footprints were not seen.”