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What a psalm of anguish! The psalmist is wrestling with the emptiness of life, the emptiness of amassing wealth, and the pain inflicted on him by God because of his sin. Verse 4 even has a hint of suicidal tendency in it, “Show me, Lord, my life’s end…” The rest of the verse seems to indicate he is asking to see how long he will live and to see how fleeting those days will be, but that first line still packs a punch.
This is one of those psalms that is not meant to create systematic theology from and frankly, isn’t very encouraging at all. In our modern theologies of happy endings and health and wealth, one might wonder why this is in the Bible at all. Psalm 39 is a companion psalm, to companion with you when you are going through the darkest and most depressing moments of your life. It’s not to lead you into deeper depression, it’s to give you permission to cry out to God in the midst of your emptiness and anguish. It’s to comfort you in knowing you’re not the first to feel what you’re feeling and that in fact, the very writers of Scripture felt these things. Psalm 39 is here to kick a healthy clod of dirt onto our happy, shiny, vending-machine-God sermons that fill too many pulpits on Sunday mornings.
Psalm 39 is a lament to God. If David wrote this, the context of the prayer seems to fit the pain he felt when praying that God wouldn’t kill he and Bathsheba’s first son as punishment for David’s adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah (2 Samuel 12:13-19). The psalmist knows the pain he is going through in this case is a result of his own personal sin and that God is punishing him as a result of that sin (verses 9-11, 13). It’s agonizing to read. This is not to say that when you are feeling depressed it is God punishing you for your sin. This is just a messy psalm where the psalmist is deeply depressed, seeing the emptiness of life and is in the throws of the consequences of some of his own cataclysmic sin.
As is the practice these psalms teach us over and over again, the psalmist runs to God rather than away from him in the midst of his pain. In the midst of his emptiness, the psalmist cries out in verse 7, “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” In the midst of our depression and in seeing the emptiness of this world, we have hope in God! The end is not the end and the discovery of how fleeting this life is does not get the last word. We have hope beyond the grave and hope and purpose and meaning beyond the fleeting wealth chase that consumes our world.
“Save me from all my transgressions.” (Verse 8) The psalmist also runs to God for his salvation. He knows he is a sinner. He knows he cannot save himself. He knows nothing in this empty world will save him. He runs to God for salvation and forgiveness.
“Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping.” (Verse 12) The psalmist knows God is the Great Comforter. He follows in the path of the psalms and mourns and cries and wails and laments to God in the midst of his pain. He runs to his shelter and refuge. The pain continues but he doesn’t face it alone. It continues but he doesn’t act like it’s his fight to win. Even in the midst of blaming God for his pain, he knows that God is his hope and deliverer. This may not preach well, but there is a deep comfort in it for those who experience deep pain and deep anguish and pray very difficult prayers to God. When we know God could have prevented a horrible thing from happening, but it happened. When we know God can remove a horrible circumstance from our lives, but it continues. Satan’s temptation and our internal anger wants us to abandon God. To blame God and flee our faith. And if we did so, what would we be left with? Who would be left to win the war for us? Who would be our shelter and refuge? If we make that choice, we are then completely and truly alone, with only our feeble fists and beaten down strength to fight off all the evil that Satan and this fallen world bombard us with. The psalms chart out a better path. A path of hope. A path of victory. Even in your darkest hour, even when all hope seems lost, run to God. Cry out to God. Give him all of your emotion. Blame him if you need to, he can handle it. But keep your hope in him. Keep him as your shelter in the storm and refuge in the war. If you die from the bullets, die in his arms. If the storm overwhelms you, be overwhelmed in his arms.
It’s not pretty, but life often isn’t pretty. The psalms, and our God himself, know this and chart a path of breadcrumbs for us to follow when all seems lost.
Invitation to reflection:
Prayer for the day: God I run to you in my despair. I run to you as I see the emptiness of this world. I run to you as I look at the emptiness of the wealth I have amassed. I run to you because there is no where else to run. You are the only one who can deliver. You are the only one who can save. You are the only one who can defeat evil and bring victory over sin and death. I run to you Jesus because you resurrected from the dead. You conquered the grave. You took Satan’s best weapon and threw it back in his face. You canceled the charge of my sin’s legal indebtedness, which condemned me, and you took it away, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). You disarmed Satan and made a public spectacle of him, triumphing over him by the cross (Colossians 2:15)! Thank you for reminding me in this psalm that others have walked this path before me. Thank you that you never gave up on them and you don’t give up on me. Be my shelter in the storm and my refuge in the war.