1 Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
3 My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?
4 Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
Who praises you from the grave?
6 I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.
8 Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the Lord has heard my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.
(New International Version)
This is the sixth Psalm in a series that I’m using to get myself back to the Bible. I’m making no promises of getting through any more of them, except this one right here today. In my desire to get back to the Bible, I am taking just one small step at a time.
In Catholicism, this is called the “first of the seven Penitential Psalms,” which refers to the fact that the Psalmist is repenting. He is asking for mercy and for relief from the consequences of his sins. (I love how the Psalmist appeals to God in verse five. Save me from my pain because if I die, how can I worship you?)
“My soul is in deep anguish.” I imagine we’ve all had some moments like this. These are the moments when we’ve done something wrong and are suffering under the consequences. Acts borne out of pride or selfishness or jealousy come back to us, filling us with shame and guilt. It can be unbearable, weighing on us like physical pain. Or it can become actual physical pain. Recently, I sent a rash email, too direct and abrupt, before I took in all the facts, before I stopped to listen and consider a better response. The conflict it caused was easily resolved, but it left me with an acute nausea and a sharp twinge of shame and embarrassment that wouldn’t leave me for days. It was like a shadow over my head that I couldn’t shake. It’s awful knowing that we’ve hurt or upset someone.
And all we can do is ask for mercy and forgiveness, from the person we’ve wronged and from God.
And that mercy, that forgiveness, resolve the suffering. It makes us think twice before committing the same wrong again. The consequences of our sin can be such a good teacher.
One of the things that makes the Psalms so powerful is that they often speak to our basic human needs and emotions. How many of us have grieved and suffered and cried out in heartache at our own mistakes, our self-inflicted consequences? How often have we been at risk of drowning in our own guilt? We long for rescue and reconciliation, to make all things right again. And God hears it.
Our desperation, our tears, our shame and sadness, these are not lost on God. He sees our grief and our misery. He sees our repentant hearts and he saves us from ourselves with his “unfailing love.” His mercy abounds and his love endures. We can cry out in our humility and ask for pardon. In our darkness, God hears our weeping and extends his mercy.