I cry out to you from the depths, Lord — my Lord, listen to my voice! Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy! If you kept track of sins, Lord — my Lord, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you— that’s why you are honored. I hope, Lord. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise. My whole being waits for my Lord— more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning! Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God! He is the one who will redeem Israel from all its sin.
I think it is safe to say that we have all those moments when we thought – or sometimes screamed – ‘God help me!’ For some, it is a moment of exasperation when we have had enough of the situation and just want some relief. For others, it is a moment when it feels like everything is crumbling around them. And for others still, it is a moment when the current crisis is one in a protracted line that never seems to end. It doesn’t matter which of these, or perhaps some other expression, you find yourself in, we have all found ourselves there at one time or another.
For me, one of those situations happened after a service in the winter of 2015. I was serving a church in Monument, Colorado just north of Colorado Springs. After a youth group meeting, I was driving home with my daughter on what was shaping up to be a nasty evening. There was a nasty combination of snow, slush, and ice mixed together on the hilly, mountain-like roads that ran from the church down to the town of Monument below. We topped the hill on Highway 83 when we hit a patch of ice that covered the road. Our little front wheel drive car slid downhill with traffic coming uphill and following us downhill for the longest five seconds of my life – though at the time I would have sworn it was five minutes and we slid for half a mile.
I don’t think I articulated any specific prayer or said anything aloud and I think Avery just had a death grip on the seat, but I am certain that something like ‘God help us’ or ‘Dear God’ or something to that effect went through my mind. I think it’s safe to say that most anyone who has ever been in that sort of situation has offered up a prayer to God for preservation, healing, safety, whatever the circumstances dictated. I believe it is human, whether Christian, deist, agnostic, or atheist anyone dealing with difficulties will have, I think, a tendency to seek out a spiritual solution, guidance, or presence to help.
Troubles So Hard
The psalmist in Psalm 130 is someone who knows this. The psalm itself falls into several categories: it is one the Songs of Ascent as well as one of the Penitent Psalms, and used in several musical settings including the only complete arrangement of a psalm by Johann Sebastian Bach.
The psalm had a profound effect on John Wesley and his Aldersgate experience.
John Wesley heard the words of Psalm 130 sung as an anthem at Saint Paul’s Cathedral on the afternoon of the same day that brought him in the evening to the room at Aldersgate where, as he described it, he found his heart “strangely warmed.” The prayer of Psalm 130 helped prepare him for the transforming experience of the grace of God that changed his life and ultimately the lives of hundreds and thousands of others.
The Psalms in general, have always been a part of the Christian experience for giving voice to our human experience. These ancient liturgical songs of the Hebrew people have long been a rich source for articulating the cries and laments of the hurting, the joys and celebrations of the jubilant, and the peace and tranquility of those who are walking with God. I find this interesting when we consider our responses to people in pain or need. Rarely do we turn to this library of verse for comfort or offer it as a comfort, yet it speaks volumes for those in need. One pastoral counselor writes,
Given this dilemma, we unfortunately often rely upon ourselves as a principal resource. Left to our own devices, we may engage in empathetic dishonesty (“I know how you feel”), theological arrogance (“It must be God’s will”), or even theological nonsense (“God needed your baby in heaven”).
I believe we say things like this because we have no idea what to say and find ourselves grasping at the same straws as the people we are trying to help. My hope is that perhaps we can find a model for how to speak to these difficult circumstances by using the psalms, particularly Psalm 130, as a model.
Again, Psalm 130 is one of the Songs of Ascent (potentially songs sung on the way to Jerusalem to worship or on the fifteen steps of the Temple during worship festivals) and one of the Penitent Psalms (psalms used as prayers of repentance in worship). “In this psalm of ascent, we see both the individual (“I” in vv. 1–2, 5–6) and the corporate body represented (Israel in vv. 7–8). This duality makes the best sense if we imagine a liturgist leading a congregation in worship.”
The psalm is in four parts which, if carefully examined, provide a pattern for walking from grief to hope.
- Lament (allow yourself to be upset about the situation, vv.1-2)
- Reconciliation (with God and others, vv.3-4)
- Waiting (be patient as God works things out, vv.5-6)
- Hope (believe that God will work in the situation, vv.7-8)
When I was a kid, we had this rose bush next to the house in the backyard, a behemoth of spiky beauty that was as tall as the house itself. Anytime we played ball there, the ball would invariably end up in or under the bush and someone, usually me, would have to brave the thorns and pull the ball out. After doing this a while, I got a little too comfortable with retrieving the ball and shoved my hand between the two largest branches to find another I didn’t see. “Ouch!” along with a few other less than ingratiating things became my cry at the moment.
The first two verses of Psalm 130 say, Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! In other words, God! Are you listening to me; this hurts! Listen to me! Hear me crying out to you! These are the words of someone with soul-crushing pain that cannot be alleviated, a pain wrought with the anxiety that it has no end.
This is also the cry of psalmists throughout the collection of Hebrew hymns. Life at its worst happens and they scream “Ouch!” in the form of poetic verse. The various writers express their pain, anguish, sorrow. You name it, they put it into words. And this is a perfectly normal, perfectly reasonable response. “Emotions are automatic physiologic reactions. When they become conscious, they are feelings.” Paul alludes to this when he writes, “Be angry but do not sin,” meaning feel what you feel but recognize that you have to control your reaction.
The next two verses seek reconciliation between the one lamenting and God, If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. After crying out, the person in pain recognizes their own brokenness and that they may or may not have broken the covenant relationship they have with God in some way. Before we follow this thought any further, we need to understand some things.
This does not automatically mean that if something bad happens it is because we sinned. This is something called retribution theology which means God does good to those who do good and bad to those who do bad. This sort of thinking leads to a prosperity gospel understanding of faith and the expectation that if we do good, we should have something for it. A careful reading of the suffering of Job, who was a righteous man in the eyes of God and everyone around him, can dispel this idea in short order.
It does, however, point to the need to examine ourselves and seek to be in communion with God as a first step in the healing process. Our reconciliation to God is how we begin to reorder our mental state after experiencing a lamentable circumstance. It is a refocusing on the relationship that most sustains in times of crisis and the relationship that can spiritually nourish our hunger for peace and healing under the circumstances.
We should also seek to mend other relationships in our lives that have been or could be damaged by the situation. Often, we lash out at those around us in our grief or close ourselves off to them while we try to practice the bear cave method of healing. In either case, we break the bonds we have with others in our pain and need to reconcile ourselves to those whom we have broken covenant with.
When I was a kid, I had an accident that split my forehead open and left me with seven stitches in the front of my head. I watched for several weeks as the skin grew back together, and stitches finally came out. The scar never went away, though. Even now, almost four decades later, I can still see the faint, vertical outline running down the center of my forehead.
The psalmist writes I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. All healing, spiritual or otherwise requires patience and therefore, waiting. But not just the sitting around, waiting for paint to dry, watching the wallpaper waiting. But a focused waiting that recognizes that God is a work in the process of healing. It is a waiting that looks to a word from God through prayer and meditation, through the examination of the scriptures, through an understanding of how God has worked in the lives of those who have walked this road of suffering before us. We wait with these things in mind knowing that there will be morning, a time when the light falls on us again and we rise refreshed and rested, restored from the struggle of the night.
The psalmist ends this work of verse appropriately with a word of hope. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities. Notice where the hope is placed. It is not in our abilities or our mighty but in God alone. And according to the psalmist, there is a good reason for this. The Lord alone is capable of chesed or steadfast love; the kind of love that is relational, active, and enduring. Along with this steadfast love, God exercises the power to redeem, not just on a personal level but on a level that encompasses all of those who ‘cry out’. This redemption is also complete, a redemption from all iniquities or better said, brokenness. These reasons are the psalmist’s justification for hope in God and ours as well. To know that our hope leads to a relationship that is personal and long-lasting, to know that our brokenness can be healed, is to know a hope for the healing that we need.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
While the psalmist began the journey through Psalm 130 in pain, crying out to God, he comes to see light at the end of the tunnel. If we can allow ourselves room to express our emotion in a healthy way, seek reconciliation or the restoration of relationships with God and others, be patient as God works through our healing, and honestly, genuinely believe that God will work in the situation, we can come from lament to joy.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Psalms: The Prayer Book of The Bible. Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
Broyles, Craig C. Psalms (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Byamungu, Gosbert. “Grace as subversive surprise: a reading of Psalm 130 and Luke 19:1-10.” The Ecumenical Review 56, no. 3 (July 2004): 334-341. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed June 4, 2018).
Gilbert, Roberta M. The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory. Leading Systems Press. Kindle Edition.
Marrs, Rick (1999) “Out of the Depths: The Psalms and Pastoral Care,” Leaven: Vol. 7: Iss. 3, Article 7. Available at: http://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/leaven/vol7/iss3/7
Marshall, Robert Lewis, and Traute M. Marshall. 2016. Exploring the World of J. S. Bach: A Traveler’s Guide. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2016. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed June 4, 2018)
Rendsburg, Gary A. “The Psalms as Hymns in the Temple of Jerusalem.” in Jesus and Temple: Textural and Archaeological Explorations, ed. James H. Charlesworth. 95-122. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014
Zenger, Erich. “The Composition and Theology of the Fifth Book of Psalms, Psalms 107-145.” Journal for The Study of The Old Testament, no. 80 (September 1998): 77-102. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed June 4, 2018).
 Broyles, Craig C. Psalms (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series), Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, p. 468
 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Psalms: The Prayer Book of The Bible. Fortress Press. Kindle Edition, p. 50
 Marshall, Robert Lewis, and Traute M. Marshall. 2016. Exploring the World of J. S. Bach: A Traveler’s Guide. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2016. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed June 4, 2018), p. 44
 Miller, Patrick D. 1979. “Psalm 130.” Interpretation 33, no. 2: 176-181. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed June 3, 2018), p. 176-177.
 Marrs, Rick (1999) “Out of the Depths: The Psalms and Pastoral Care,” Leaven: Vol. 7: Iss. 3, Article 7. Available at: http://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/leaven/vol7/iss3/7, p.1
 Rendsburg, Gary A. “The Psalms as Hymns in the Temple of Jerusalem.” in Jesus and Temple: Textural and Archaeological Explorations, ed. James H. Charlesworth. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014, p. 111
 Broyles, p. 468
 Gilbert, Roberta M. The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory. Leading Systems Press. Kindle Edition., p. 7
 Ephesians 4:26