Just about everyone has heard of the famous poem “Footprints.” It hangs on the wall of many Christian homes. It often gets shared on social media. Its popularity is no doubt owing to the encouraging message it publishes.
You know how it goes. A man has a dream in which he sees all the scenes of his life and there are footprints in the sand to go with each scene. In most of the scenes, there are two sets, his and the Lord’s. But when there were hard times, then there was only one set of footprints. The man wondered why – he thought he’d been abandoned in those times. Then God told him that it was then that he carried the man.
There is truth in this. Yet, as often happens with relics of Christian pop culture, it falls short of the full picture of what God reveals in the Bible. You see, “Footprints” doesn’t err by what it says, but by what it fails to say. It leaves us with a false impression of how God interacts with our lives.
“Footprints” gives us the impression that God only carries us during the really hard times. But for the rest we’re left to walk on our own beside him. It reminds me of that bumper sticker: “God is my co-pilot.” To that I always want to say, “So you think you’re the captain and God is just assisting you?” “Footprints” doesn’t go that far, I know, but we’re at least left with the picture of us alongside God as walking partners.
The good news of the Bible is way better than that. When we think of the gospel, we often think of it narrowly in terms of what Christ has done to redeem sinners. However, it’s bigger than that. When the Heidelberg Catechism answers the question of what a Christian must believe, it says, “All that is promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic and undoubted Christian faith teach us in a summary.” In other words, every article of the Apostles’ Creed contains gospel promises based on Scripture.
That begins with “I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” With this statement, Christians confess not only that God is infinitely powerful, but also that in him we have a “Father” who loves us and upholds us. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we can be confident that God always carries us. He’s done so in the past, he does in the present, and he will do so in the future.
The general idea of God carrying his people is found in several places in Scripture. According to Deut. 1:31, the Israelites saw how God carried them in the wilderness, “as a man carries his son.” In Ex. 19:4, God says to Israel, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
But then there are some passages which sharpen this truth. In Isa. 46:3-4, God says that he has been carrying his people from before their birth. They have been carried from the womb. Then he adds: “…even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you.” In every stage of life, God carries us. His carrying is not just for the hard times, but for all times. He never leaves us to walk alone — and he never puts us down to walk alongside him. He knows we’re not strong enough to do that. It’s like Paul says in Acts 17:28, “In him we live and move and have our being.” To sustain the poem’s metaphor, we only move because he carries us. There is only ever one set of footprints – God’s.
The truth the Bible gives us about God is far better than the limited picture painted by the author of “Footprints.” The Bible’s truth is far more encouraging. Through adversity and prosperity, God is always upholding us. Moreover, the God who always upholds us is the same one who demonstrated his love for us in giving his Son. The cross is where we look to be reminded that it is a good and loving God always carrying us on his shoulders. He’ll never let us down.