I love the Psalms.
They teach us to pray. They teach us to be honest with God. In each one, at least in a verse or two, and often in every verse, we find ourselves and our own feelings.
Consider, for example, Psalm 130. Ah, here’s a psalm for real people, flesh and blood humans who haven’t got life all figured out, who make mistakes regularly, whose lives have plenty of room left for growth. Real people with blood in their veins.
Someone once poked fun at the Puritans by chiding that they thought themselves so holy that they had to hold on to the huckleberry bushes to keep from inadvertently ascending.
The writer of Psalm 130 is under no such delusion. Driven to his knees and to his Lord by his own weakness, his cry for help and mercy becomes our own cry for mercy and grace. No wonder this psalm has through the centuries often been used in the worship and liturgy of God’s people to express their need, their confession of sin, their trust.
The psalmist (probably not David on this one), starts off “real” and stays that way: “I’m in a mess, and only you, my God, can save me!” The NIV renders this, “O Lord, out of the depths I cry to you!”
Eugene Peterson is right on target, as usual, in his paraphrase (The Message): “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Listen to my cry for mercy!”
This cry comes from “out of the depths.” The psalmist is sinking in his trouble. He’s drowning and headed for oblivion, and he knows it. If you’re drowning, you don’t politely whisper, “Say, would you help me please? Ever so sorry to be a bother, but I really believe I may be drowning.”
I’ll never forget the day my son Joshua and I went, believe it or not, rafting down the Nile in Uganda. We had great guides, but a Class 5 rapid christened “Silverback” just about did us both in.
We knew our chances of riding the raft all the way through that one were virtually nil; the right plan is to ride it as long as possible before the inevitable dunking and downward plunge. It is incredibly difficult to get your breath in that kind of white water even when, after what seems like thirty minutes down below, you finally bob up (which you do by relaxing [?!] and trusting your vest). The muted underwater world and the green glow you saw overhead as you floated upward has finally turned back into the deafening but welcome sound of crashing waves. You see bright light and foam and froth; you desperately need air, but all you seem to be able to suck in is foam and spray. Seems such a shame, you find yourself thinking, to get to the surface and still drown!
What Silverback did to me, life at times does to us all. And we find ourselves fresh out of wise words and self-help strategies and success seminars. We discover that we’re in the same boat as all humans. We are not “a cut above” and our words are cut down to three: “O God, help!”
He does. And the psalmist’s words in this psalm become ours: “If you, God, kept records of wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshiped” (The Message).
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Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.