A WEEKLY WALK THROUGH THE PSALMS
As with several previous psalms, here too we hear the cry of someone in trouble. This trouble, however, does not come from adversaries but from a sickness that tears down his body and soul. It is so difficult that he feels death is a real possibility. It was understood in his world that such a condition was a sign of God’s displeasure. After all, if God willed everything in the world, then his troubles must be evidence of God’s ill will toward him. This was how they saw things. Job, of course, argued against this way of thinking. After all, he had done nothing wrong so why should he be suffering? But here, the psalmist accepts without question what others say – that when affliction comes there must first have been some sin.
It is important to see that because of his sickness of body, there arose a spiritual depression as well. Sometimes it can happen the other way around (spiritual struggles can lead to physical illness), but there is certainly a connection between the two. The physical and the spiritual have a common experience with one another, so we need to pay attention to both. Just as physical struggles can wear us down spiritually, it is also true that our struggles can strengthen us spiritually. I do not believe God gives us our troubles and struggles – I think those come from the brokenness of our lives and our world, but I do believe God can use those times in order to deepen our spiritual selves if we look for it and are open to it.
This psalmist is struggling so hard, though, that he isn’t interested at the moment in finding some spiritual benefit as much as wanting the pain to stop. That is real too. Pain hurts – and who wouldn’t want ‘this cup to pass’. “How long, O Lord?” – even those who believe in God can sometimes find themselves wondering why God isn’t’ more concerned with my plight. The question, ‘How long?’ meets with varied answers in scripture. Often, the answer is ‘wait’. But it is not easy to wait. And yet, waiting teaches us things too. Sometimes the answer is ‘now’ – like the penitent thief on the cross. And sometimes the answer is ‘you must wait for what you desire, but you will receive now what you need’. Only once is the answer ‘never’. When that last cold sullen stream shall over us roll, God says no more shall you wait, nevermore shall you suffer or wonder or struggle – never again.
Like many of us, the psalmist comes up with reasons why God should respond. The first is that the depth of his struggle is so great that it should bring from God great sympathy. After all, he moans and weeps so that every night he drenches his pillows and in the morning his eyes, worn out with crying and want of sleep, can barely see. God ought to take note of that at the very least. The second reason for God to act is that God’s reputation as a gracious God is at stake. And the third is that if the psalmist should die, God would lose a loyal worshiper. All of these are good reasons for God to do something. And in the end, the psalmist believes God has heard his prayer.
There is a point, though, where the difference between this psalmist and the Christian is great. Our experiences may be the same; our cries may be similar, but while he believes that his only hope is for this life only, we know there is more. St. Paul said: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” God cares about our struggles here and now, but there is more. How long, O Lord? – as long as it takes, even if that means forever.
PRAYER: Merciful God, you give life and overcome death. You know our anguish, not from afar, but in the suffering of Jesus Christ. Take all our grieving and sorrow, all our pain and tears, and heal us for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.