Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Penitential Psalms - Part 3 (Psalm 38)

A Psalm of David, for the memorial offering.
"O LORD, rebuke me not in thy anger,
nor chasten me in thy wrath!
For thy arrows have sunk into me,
and thy hand has come down on me.
There is no soundness in my flesh
because of thy indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
they weigh like a burden too heavy for me." Ps 38:1-4

This is so painfully true. It shows how David feels that God has shot him with arrows and crushed him with His hand. This reminds me of the Anglican prayer of confession in the BCP that says "there is no health in me". I don't know Hebrew, but I know Latin and Salvere the verb for salvation means 'to make whole', to be healthy. The burden of sin gets heavy so gradually in my life, it's not till I'm absolved that I feel how much has built up. I will go into depression as the weight builds and then wonder why it's happening, David has pinpointed it.

"My wounds grow foul and fester
because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all the day I go about mourning.
For my loins are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am utterly spent and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart."

Utterly spent and crushed - it's an awful feeling. It's almost messianic because it makes me think of the passion and how Jesus suffered but for our sins, and how we too suffer temporally for the sins we commit. I like the phrase "tumult of my heart", it describes the raw emotion and lostness that overcomes us at times. It's the feeling St. James describes about the doubter who is tossed back and forth among the waves.

"Lord, all my longing is known to thee,
my sighing is not hidden from thee.
My heart throbs, my strength fails me;
and the light of my eyes -- it also has gone from me.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my kinsmen stand afar off.
Those who seek my life lay their snares,
those who seek my hurt speak of ruin,
and meditate treachery all the day long.
But I am like a deaf man, I do not hear,
like a dumb man who does not open his mouth.
Yea, I am like a man who does not hear,
and in whose mouth are no rebukes."

The longings of our hearts are known to God, the inward intercession of the Spirit groans in words we can't find. That is comforting to know. "my sighing is not hidden from thee", I feel like this sometimes, even when prayers go unanswered it's enough to know that God sees, that he is still in control even if things are going badly. More messianic tones about the innocence of the persecuted one.

"But for thee, O LORD, do I wait;
it is thou, O LORD my God, who wilt answer.
For I pray, "Only let them not rejoice over me,
who boast against me when my foot slips!"
For I am ready to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.
I confess my iniquity,
I am sorry for my sin."

The honest trust in God, the confession and contrition plus the early disciplining of God make a great Penitential shape to this Psalm, all the elements are there. The writer seems to be a bit arrogant just not wanting his enemies to triumph over him, but his trust in God and his readiness to fall seem to still show humility.

"Those who are my foes without cause are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
Those who render me evil for good
are my adversaries because I follow after good.
Do not forsake me, O LORD!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!"

This reminds me of a quote by Winston Churchill who says "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life". Jesus teaches us that those who are persecuted for righteousness sake are blessed, but this is a truism in Christianity, in reality it is difficult.

Finally I can relate to the last prayer of David after his confession, it's a plea, he's begging God to be near him and to make haste to save him, to make him whole.

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