The psalms are for all times, for all situations, for all people. These poems and songs reach into the heart just as their expose the inner person. We have a tendency to only to want to smile and to hear happy things. Unfortunately this can be part of Christianity as well but what do you do when you don’t want to smile, when you are anxious or afraid, when the realities of life are tough or dangerous? Thank goodness for the psalms – all 150 of them – there for us to read, sing and pray – and stop and think – in amazement often – these were Jesus’ words which he used to live by. Jesus said that the Psalms – and also the Law and the Prophets – but for today, let’s remember the Psalms reveal him. And today we are not praising. Today the psalm is a lament. Listen to the first two verses …
1 With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
2 I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him. (Psalm 142:1,2 ESV)
At least he has breath to talk – to cry out, to plead, to complain, to share his troubles. Life is like that at times. We don’t want it to be. But how amazing that there are words – God’s Word – for all occasions.
These words are described as ‘A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.’
We don’t really know what a maskil is and it is thought to refer to either a type of hymn or a style of singing or maybe it is meant for contemplation or teaching. Luther translated it as ‘instruction’. And it is linked to David in a cave which everyone associates with his flight and persecution from Saul (see 1 Samuel 22) where David was hiding in a cave before others – his family and supporters – found him there and rallied to him there. He would get them sanctuary with the King of Moab but his hiding and seeking the Lord’s will would so enrage Saul that Saul would kill the priests of the family of Ahimelech – 85 of them plus wives and children, yes infants are also mentioned, and even their animals – such was the slaughter – and only one escaped and told David. How would you feel if you were David?
We all feel, I think, fight me if you want but for goodness sake don’t attack those associated with me. We all know that if you want to hurt someone, then attack those for whom they care. Life can be hard. No wonder we cry out, plead for mercy, complain and tell God our troubles.
Do you think I’m making too big a leap from David in his cave to us in our homes? While I would not want to attribute consciousness to a virus and any thought of COVID-19 persecuting us is poor biology and poor reasoning, there is a sense of oppression and fear and attack ‘in the air’ – and yes, I meant it metaphorically and literally.
It is one thing to shut the door and stay inside and be sensible about our social contact but it is another thing all together to be shut in and ill – because sickness isolates. Sickness forces us to confront ourselves as bodies – cells, chemicals, chromosomes, and calories – and susceptible to anything that can attack or damage cells, chemicals, chromosomes, or calories. Our bodies might be a cave and since we are bodies so like David we can lament the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
And Jesus knows and understands. What are you feeling about the current situation? What have your family said to you? What have you said to your family? And what does Jesus say into all of this?
Yes indeed – I love you. But today we want safety and security. We want the virus to stop. We want people better and no one more to grieve. And that is when love can seem so weak. We want more! Do something, Lord!
And so Jesus says, ‘Don’t be afraid’. And that’s easier said than done – we’ve got these laments running around. But Jesus still stands there – and our running slows, our heart rate lessens – and Jesus is still standing there with us. And that is what we discover, again and again, that Jesus is still standing there, nothing blows him away, nothing makes him self isolate, nothing forces him to keep a social distance, he is right there in, with and next to us. Don’t be afraid. And this peace orients us to look around and see what to do next. In this case behave in ways that don’t transmit the virus. But more generally it means looking at each relationship we have and seeking to serve rather than be served.
The psalmist said at the end:
7 Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
for you will deal bountifully with me. (Psalm 142:7 ESV)
I don’t want to glib and superficial or uncaring here but this verse is true for us in heaven. But we don’t want to hear that because the implication seems to be that I or God don’t care about the now, the lament now – and nothing could be further from the truth! But to have an eternal perspective is helpful so that I don’t have to be anxious about the future. I can turn my focus to the now – whatever it is – and then look to Jesus and say, ‘Right then. What do I need to do today – now?’. And Jesus guides us through his Word about how to respond – how to live – what to say – what to do – and the lament is seen as what it is – a prison from which Jesus leads us to give thanks – in it and when we’re out of it!
God always deals bountifully with us. He gives us life and hope and meaning. He never abandons us. He is with us in the cave. And if it all seems rubbish or a mind game, then we can return to the cross and empty tomb – events that have happened and Jesus comes back into focus – or rather is that still small voice – even in the dark of the cave.
Jesus said to his disciples just before he prayed in the garden and was arrested, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)
- Psalm 142:1 - 2
- Psalm 142:7 - 7