Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Scripture for the Day: Psalm 6

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long?Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer.10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror; they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.

As I read Psalm 6 today, I’m reminded again of the universality of these sacred prayers. When these words were sung and written down so long ago, the one praying was up against something life-threatening and soul-terrorizing. He or she is used up, body and soul, languishing, shaking with terror, weary from moaning, sitting on a couch soaked through from the flood of his or her own tears. His or her eyes waste away from grief. Perhaps you have cried so hard at some point that it feels like your eyes won’t work anymore—they get raw and dry and blurry. From that deep pain comes a cry to God: Hear me, God; be gracious to me; turn to me, please O Lord; save my life so that I can remember you and praise you, because if I end up in Sheol, I won’t be able to praise you anymore. This is a person who is isolated, desperate for God’s presence and help, weeping and crying out, weeping and waiting, wondering how long this suffering will last before God will intervene.

There is a moment when something changes. Between verses 7 and 8, from a point of desperate weakness, the psalmist feels something else and makes a different cry; he or she calls not to God, but to the unnamed “foes” of the prayer, a group of enemies, “workers of evil” who have tormented this soul in some way. We don’t hear God’s voice in this psalm, but in this moment of turning, the psalmist says with confidence that the Lord has heard. The Lord knows the pain that caused this flood of tears, the Lord has heard this plea for salvation and has accepted this prayer. God knows. And because God knows, the psalmist finds something—maybe it’s renewed strength or maybe a bit of comfort—and has the confidence to rebuke the tormentors:

Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror; they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.

God will deliver. God will bring justice. That is not just a deep comfort, but a radical confession: we believe in a God who hears and saves, who does not leave God’s children to languish and shake and weep, but will bring justice for them.

Most of us, when we read the Bible or anything else, read ourselves into the words. We find the places where the experience we’re reading matches our own and the places where it promises us something or tells us something we need to hear. This psalm has perhaps been each of our prayer in a dark season, maybe brought on by physical illness or emotional devastation or strife with someone or some group whose actions torment and cause hurt.

But today, I am reading this psalm not only as my own prayer, but as the cry of another—my neighbor, my friend, a stranger across town I have yet to meet—the cry of someone else whose experience is not exactly like my own, but is being shared with me, entrusted to me because we are both children of a God who hears our cries and desires justice for us. Our world is rife with pain now. Perhaps it always has been, but the air is full of cries right now. Those cries include some experiences we know because we’ve had them. And they include some things we will never fully understand. My hope is that we will hear them all.

Let us pray: God of our salvation, we trust in you. Hear the cries of all your children who weep and languish, who cry out in physical pain, who cry out with weary souls, who wait for healing and justice. Give us ears to hear, God. Let us hear you. And when your children cry out, let us hear them. Let us never stop listening, drawing close to you and each other. Where we find pain of any kind, show us how to bear one another’s burdens in love. Where we find injustice, show us how to right what is wrong. Where we find strife, show us how to be instruments of your peace. Amen.

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