The Perfect Outcry in a Broken and Anguished World — Psalm 130 — BLOG – Beautiful Christian Life

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The year 2020 will be remembered, so far, for Covid-19, and large-scale protests. Vast masked crowds gather to rail against racism, policing, gender-inequality, climate change, and whatever other grievances each new week brings. Iconoclasts topple whole quarries of obnoxious memorials of the people and events of our past.

I tend to be cynical about all this. Protestors seem intent on inflaming rather than healing race and gender divisions. And they seem to give little thought to the consequences of their demands. Defund the police? Erase our history? How then will our grandchildren not repeat its mistakes?  

Whatever I may think, thousands are getting off their bottoms and onto the streets. They are unhappy, distressed, and they cry out for change. “Things are not right! We want something better!”

In Psalm 130 the psalmist too was deeply unhappy and distressed.

In this they share some common ground with Psalm 130. The psalmist too was deeply unhappy and distressed. He too felt the pain of brokenness and cried out in anguish. 

The difference is that Psalm 130 is a perfect outcry. It shows exactly what should be cried out, and to whom we should cry out, and for what reasons.

Psalm 130 is “A song of ascents.” The temple was on Mount Zion, the highest point of Jerusalem, which is itself a city on a hill. It may first have been sung by pilgrims as they streamed up through Jerusalem to the temple to worship. It looks up, away from self and the earthly, to the face of the Lord.

And Psalm 130 is, along with Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 143, one of the Penitential Psalms. We see a sinner looking up to God’s face and pleading for his mercy.

A broken heart cries out to the Lord.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy (Psalm 130:1-2).

David had once said, “I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me” (Ps. 69:2). “The depths” is the bottom of the sea, the base of the slimy pit. “The depths” can take many forms. It could be the depths of an airless dungeon, or chronic pain. It could be the depths of poverty, or of a broken heart. It could be the depths of despair, shame, or fear. It could be the depths of hopelessness, of looking forward and seeing nothing but the cold grave and endless torment. The psalmist cries out de profundis (Latin for “from the depths”) of this black and hopeless place. He dares to evoke God’s “ears” and begs that he will listen.

We should never forget that a loving Lord sometimes casts his people into the depths. Think of Joseph in the Egyptian dungeon and scabrous Job on his ash heap, consider David in the caves of exile, Jonah in the stinking whale, Daniel in the lions’ den, the Prodigal Son in the sty, and Peter in the abyss of bitter self-loathing on crucifixion eve. The Lord casts us down to death, that we might come to life and cry out to him. 

Notice that the Psalmist doesn’t scramble out of the pit, and then call to God. He calls to God from the shroud. God wants our prayers from wherever we are, and even from whomever we are, at that moment.

Note two fundamental differences between the protester and the penitent. 

First, the protester cries out to human authorities for change. Thus, they aim far too low and expect the impossible. Human governors can provide a degree of defense, law and order, communication, and healthcare, and we should be thankful for good government in Australia. But no government can reach into people’s hearts. They cannot make the greedy generous, the racist color-blind, the violent gentle, the selfish selfless, and the reckless responsible. The Psalmist cries out to the highest heavens. The voice of the protester, like a flapping dodo, fails to rise from earth and clay. 

Second, the protestor cries for justice and rights. “Give me what I deserve!” The Psalmist cries out for the opposite. To see the Lord, the Rose of Sharon, the Lily of the Valley, the Lamb without Blemish, is to see at once the blackness of our own hearts, “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9 NKJV). To see the Holy One, sword of justice in his hand, is to see at once what we richly deserve, the fires of hell and the worm that does not die. 

We must tread very carefully here. There are people who are in the pit as an immediate consequence of a sin. Think Jonah, Peter, and the Prodigal Son. And there are people in the pit, but it is not an immediate consequence of sin. Think Job, Daniel, and Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. Yet the cry in both cases is the same, “Have mercy!”

There is profound injustice in the world. “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt. 26:11 NIV). Love compels us to stand for the rights of the unborn, the impoverished, child-slaves, political prisoners, and the elderly who are abused and who live, in some nations, with euthanizing potions at hand. Christians will always want to defend the weak. Yet, when we look to heaven, we dare not cry out for justice. For we know about our sickening rebellion. Have mercy O Lord!

The broken heart cries out to the Lord with confidence.

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you are feared (Ps. 130:3-4).

The Lord has a written record of our lives, and the dead will be “judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” (Rev. 20:12). If the Lord was the kind of God who marked—the Hebrew shamar means to watch over and guard—the record of our evil, crookedness, wrong, and guilt, then who will stand on that day? The question is rhetorical.

That little word “if” shines hope. It is not inevitable that the Lord will keep the record of our sins. “With you there is forgiveness.” God is a merciful God. And what is the purpose of forgiveness? That we might come to fear and reverence God, and to love and serve him with heart, mind, soul, and strength.

The Enlightenment overlooked the soul, just as Marxism does.

Notice again how protesters only scratch the surface of our world’s problems. They rage against government policy and the sin of others. That was the failure of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. The Philosophes thought that it was humanity’s addiction to the metaphysical that makes us so superstitious and cruel. If we only realized that our bodies and brains are just complex material organisms, and if we apply mathematics and science to improve these complicated machines, then humanity would flourish. The Enlightenment overlooked the soul. 

This is likewise the failure of Marxism. The communist traces suffering to the class struggle between capitalists and workers. If we only restructure society, banish private property, and redistribute wealth, then no one will be poor and oppressed. This is as helpful as prescribing strychnine for pancreatic cancer. It doesn’t address human greed. It only enflames the rage of human pride and jealousy. 

Psalm 130 looks within. The locus of humanity’s ills is the pollution and power of sin within the heart and soul of every human being. Praise the Lord that he does not keep a record of our sin! He forgives us and frees us from the terrible punishment that we deserve. And, as we will see in verses 7-8, he deals with the root problem of sin.

He does this, literally, “in order that he may be feared” (v. 4). This is the opposite of what we might expect. We might think that because the Lord is a forgiving God, we shouldn’t have to fear him. Perhaps you are laboring under this misapprehension. You know enough theology to be dangerous. Your shallow and distorted view of God’s grace causes you to despise and ignore him. He is forgiving “in order that” he might be obeyed in loving fear and awe. In Christ “how can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2).

The worshipper cries out to the Lord with determined patience.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning (Ps. 130:5-6).

When I think of waiting, I think about sitting in the doctor’s office, as docile as a cow, leafing blankly through the pages of an old magazine. Listen to how Isaiah 26:8 describes God’s people waiting: “We have waited for Thee eagerly; Thy name, even Thy memory, is the desire of our souls” (KJV). Thus, Holladay’s Lexicon says that qavah, “to wait,” bears the “implication of tenseness, eagerness.”

The Psalmist “waits” as patiently as an engaged couple on the night before their wedding. As patiently as a starving teenager awaiting his mother’s lamb roast. In fact, his nephesh, his very soul, impatiently longs and yearns. 

Picture a lonely sentinel on the walls of Jerusalem. He’s been standing in the cold and dark for he doesn’t know how long. Clocks, after all, weren’t yet invented. He strains his eyes to the horizon, waiting for the first lilac tints of dawn. Picture a person enduring stabbing pain through the lonely hours of the night. They long for the sun to rise, for others to awake, to bring them comfort and love. This is the psalmist. He doesn’t feel that he has the Lord. He aches for him. Note his repetition. It is not a typo.

At the end of the day the protestors put down their signs. They are content for having done their bit. Protesting is not their raison d’être and they return to their homes and families, their work and study and streaming services.

Calling on the Lord is not part-time. It is not the thing I do on Sunday, with perhaps a few minutes of daily prayer and Bible reading. Calling on the Lord is not a part of life. It is the very substance of life. HE is magnetic north. The compass needle of the heart always points to him, always springs back to him. 

What is the deepest longing of your heart? Toward whom or what do your thoughts spring? What is the one great thing that you desire above all else? Perhaps it is a person. Perhaps it is sex, or food, or drink. Perhaps you have a vision of yourself and everyone is circled around you and they love you and applaud your brilliance, talent, and insight. The Psalmist longs for one thing, one person—the Lord. Picture ancient Anna and Simeon in the temple portico, aching for the arrival of “the consolation of Israel.”

The worshipper waits for the Lord.

O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Ps. 130:7-8).

To be redeemed is to be purchased out of slavery. The Lord ransoms his people from slavery to sin. He breaks their chains of sin. He slays their slave-master. He washes away their sinful pollution. He leads them by the hand into light and freedom. 

This is why we put our hope in the Lord. In him is chesed, which is not just love, but loyal and unfailing love. In him is not just redemption, but “abundant redemption,” which “not only delivers us from a dungeon, but puts us in possession of a palace” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Treasury of David).

And he himself redeems us. He pays the price not from his own pocket, but from his own veins. “by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

I finish with a moving anecdote from Rev. T.W. Aveling:

In the year 1830, on the night preceding the first of August, the day the slaves in our West Indian Colonies were to come into possession of the freedom promised them, many of them, we are told, never went to bed at all. Thousands, and tens of thousands of them, assembled in their places of worship, engaging in devotional duties, and singing praises to God, waiting for the first streak of the light of the morning of that day on which they were to be made free. Some of their number were sent to the hills, from which they might obtain the first view of the coming day, and, by a signal, intimate to their brethren down in the valley the dawn of the day that was to make them men, and no longer, as they had hitherto been, mere goods and chattels,—men with souls that God had created to live forever. How eagerly must these men have watched for the morning!

Things are not right. Untold crowds protest. But in Psalm 130 we hear the perfect outcry that can, and must, arise from every heart. In this Song of Ascents we lift up our heads to Jesus Christ. We wait for him, more than the watchman waits for the morning. 

More than the watchman waits for the morning.

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Campbell Markham has been a pastor in the Australian Presbyterian Church for over twenty-two years and lives in Perth, Western Australia. He blogs at Campbell Markham: Thoughts and Letters. This article was originally published on Beautiful Christian Life on September 16, 2020.Click Here to Subscribe to BCL’s Free Monthly Newsletter and Weekday Devotional

To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter

The Perfect Outcry in a Broken and Anguished World — Psalm 130 — BLOG – Beautiful Christian Life

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