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Psalm 38 takes the reader on a ride that starts with God’s wrath against the psalmist’s sin. He speaks of the guilt he feels from his sin (verse 4) and says there is no health in his body because of God’s wrath and no soundness in his bones because of his sin (verse 3). The verses about his physical torment and suffering continue, but at some point the suffering seems to have transitioned away from being a consequence of God’s wrath and moved toward the more familiar suffering of the psalmist’s enemies trying to kill and harm him (verse 12).
God is wrathful toward sin. These first few verses remind me of the guilt I’ve felt from my past pornography addiction and they remind me of the traumatic pain I’ve counseled men through who have cheated on their wives and whose lives are becoming unglued with unspeakable pain experienced by all. We need healthy reminders that God hates sin and that sin has consequences. I don’t fully understand the balance between God’s grace and wrath in the Old Testament (versus his wrath being satisfied today in Jesus’ finished work on the cross for those who believe), but we do see both. Regardless of how this played out in the Old Testament, the lasting truth remains that God hates sin and is wrathful against it. That justice must be done to sin. And that sin is not a fun plaything, but is an atomic bomb with cataclysmic consequences. The psalmist is experiencing this in these first few verses.
At some point the suffering of the psalmist takes a turn and feels more familiar to many of the previous psalms we have read up to this point. Enemies are trying to kill him without cause, people have abandoned him and stay far from him, and he is destitute to stop the pain and humiliation. Verse 15 continues the accustomed pattern of these pain psalms as the psalmist waits on the Lord and trusts him to answer his prayer. Verses 16-22 describe his prayer and bring us to the conclusion of the psalm. He prays for mercy, but also for forgiveness from him sin (verse 18). He asks God not to forsake him and not to be far from him. This is a powerful prayer because on the exterior, it looks like God has forsaken him and is indeed far from him.
I don’t think the lesson of Psalm 38 is meant to be a clear-cut “1. Bad things are happening to you because you sinned, 2. Confess your sins and the bad things will stop happening.” I say this because the psalm itself doesn’t have much clear-cut about it. The suffering the psalmist experiences is ambiguous in its source. It starts out as a result of God’s wrath toward sin but without announcing it, becomes stimulated by enemies who want to kill and harm without cause and the psalmist is once again seen as an innocent victim (verse 20). I think the lesson or point of this psalm is to once again guide us to run to God’s mercy and grace when we are experiencing suffering, even when the suffering continues. A unique feature of this psalm is its reminder to us that God’s wrath is real, so how much more should we 1. do our best not to sin, and 2. run to Jesus for his grace and forgiveness to cover our sin and satisfy God’s wrath. Once you are a Christian / believer, this is a once-and-for-all covering. Jesus’ work is finished. But it’s healing and freeing to remember what it is we deserve from God (apart from Jesus) so that we can so much better enjoy and experience his undeserved gifts of grace and mercy that he lavishes on us. When we start acting like God could never be wrathful because he’s just not like that (though Scripture says otherwise), we lose out on how big of a gift his mercy and grace to us really is.
The chasm that separates me from God is greater than the size of the Grand Canyon, thus the gift given to close that gap is also greater than the Grand Canyon. That’s a big gift! That’s a big gift to swim in, soak in, dance in, breathe in, live in, and find joy in.
Invitation to reflection:
Prayer for the day: God, forgive me of my sin. Forgive me of the ways I rebel against you and your will. Thank you for your grace and mercy to me. I don’t deserve it, yet you lavish it upon me. Help me to trust you that you give me commands to obey because you love me and you love humanity. Because you are a holy God and a good God, who seeks to father his children well. Thank you for your Grand-Canyon-sized love and grace for me. Let it fill me up with joy. Let it fill me gratitude. Let gratitude overflow from me, not because of my circumstances, but because of the love, grace, and mercy you’ve given me. Because of the intimate father-child, husband-wife relationship I get to have with you. Thank you Jesus. Thank you!