It’s amazing how often we can find ourselves within the pages of the biblical Book of Psalms. Consider Psalm 130.
I hope we’re not in this psalmist’s sandals often, but anyone who has lived very long can empathize with him. Hurting and almost hopeless, he writes, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” And then he reveals something about the nature of this fallen world, the nature of needy humans, and the nature of our mighty and merciful God.
The rendering in The Message well paints the picture: “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cries for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.”
A Latin term has at times served as a title for this psalm: De Profundis. Something that is “profound” is deep, and the word used for “depths” here has to do with deep waters.
The psalmist is saying, “I’m in trouble! I’m sinking in the deep waters. I’m headed down into dark oblivion! I can’t get myself out! Dear God, help!”
When you’re going down, it’s not a time for polite words: “If you don’t mind, would you help me, please? Ever so sorry to be a bother, but I really believe that I may be drowning.”
In Uganda, in 2007, my wife and I visited our sons who were then in Uganda, and son Joshua and I went rafting down the Nile. We had great guides, and most of the trip was incredibly beautiful. But part of the descent was through what has been called “five of the greatest kilometers of big volume white water on the planet.” (That famous section is lost now, submerged under waters piled up behind the new—in 2012—Bujagali Dam. I’m so glad we rafted it when we did.)
As we came to the Class 5 rapid named Silverback, we knew we’d be tossed out of the raft—yet again. But we wanted to ride it as long as we could. Outside the boat in that class of white water it is surprisingly difficult to get your breath even if you’re on the surface—and we soon weren’t. Cast into the depths and carried off underwater in different directions, we later both confessed that for several long dark moments, we thought drowning was not unlikely. (In the accompanying photo, Josh & I are in the front of the raft, and headed, in every sense of the word, down.)
“O Lord, out of the depths I cry to you!”
You don’t have to go rafting down the Nile to understand the psalmist. Life has tumbled in, and gone are the illusions that we can handle it ourselves with our strength, our bank account and investments, our professional expertise, our uncommon common sense, our noble character. No! We’re going down, and we’re fresh out of wise words and self-help strategies.
Our words are cut down to three: “O God, help!” From the “depths,” we recognize God as our only help, our only hope. No longer foolish enough to assume we deserve anything, we plead instead for sheer mercy.
In the Lord, both we and the psalmist find forgiveness and mercy and hope. And we praise Him: “My soul waits for the Lord / more than watchmen wait for the morning.”
We can trust our God. He won’t leave us in the depths.
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Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.