Out of the Depths

Reading: Psalm 130


At some time or another, all of us face deep disappointment – even to the point of despair. Perhaps a trusted friend has let us down. Perhaps a plan we believed to be secure has collapsed in ruins.

Our deepest disappointment, however, isn’t caused by the failure of others or by circumstances beyond our control – it is our own personal failures, exposing us to ourselves (perhaps also to others) as far less than we want to believe ourselves to be.

Dick Keyes, in his book, True Heroism, notes the difference between “guilt” and “shame”. “Shame” is what we feel when we don’t come up to our “models”. “Guilt” is our failure to come up to our “morals”.

Sometimes, our main concern is with our “models” – our public and private image. A great deal is said – and written – about the importance of self-esteem. We all want others to think well of us. And we don’t function well with low esteem. Yet I was struck to hear one speaker saying, “I used to think I had an inferiority complex. Then one day I discovered I was inferior!” His thinking had shifted from models to morals, from shame to guilt.

Of course, this isn’t to say that all that is said about self-esteem is irrelevant. Our well-being and functioning as a human being are adversely affected by a low self-image. The problem is that very often it isn’t the basic or central issue. To put it in theological terms, it is a grossly inadequate “gospel” that offers “affirmation” to those whose real need is “salvation”.

From time to time we hear that some politician has had a “make-over” – a professional grooming school has worked to improve his public image. Perceptive members of the public observe that the underlying attitudes haven’t really changed at all!

Psalm 130 is part of the collection of fifteen “songs of ascents”. Luther listed it as a Pauline Psalm. The unnamed writer of Psalm 130 faced some insurmountable difficulty. We aren’t told directly what the problem was. However, two references suggest both personal and national failure. “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” (v. 3) The Lord “himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (v. 8).

From time to time television and other media will pursue some public figure to expose their faults and failings. We may view this as a very useful service to the community – we like to “have a go” at our “tall poppies”. How embarrassing to be “exposed” – to have your public image tarnished or destroyed! As a community it makes us “feel good”. Someone else has been shown to be fallible after all. And the exposure of the other person gives us a smoke-screen behind which we can hide our own faults.

It all seems a matter of models, images, perceptions… What we call “dirty washing” or “skeletons in the cupboard” need to be kept carefully hidden. Nobody must know about “that”!

But when the issue is morals… God knows all about us. He needs no “private eye”, no snooping journalist. Paul wrote that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3.23) – what a devastating analysis! And it’s the uncomfortable truth!

“If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Ps. 130.3-4).

God knows all about us. He is the final judge – not public opinion, not the TV presenters or  the newspapers, not the person next door… God could choose to deal with us on the basis of just judgment of sin – none of us would have a leg to stand on. But God deals with us on the basis of grace if we will only receive it. With him there is forgiveness. We make forgiveness cheap. “To err is human, to forgive divine” – so the old saying goes. But God’s forgiveness is costly. He has in fact acted with true justice – his Son Jesus Christ has died for our sins.

The Psalmist, of course, lived long before the fulfilment of all this in Jesus. But he believed in the Lord’s redemptive grace and forgiveness. Even though he felt himself in “the depths”, he had a confident hope that the Lord would bring him peace. He longed deeply – “waited for” – the Lord “more than watchmen wait for the morning” (vv. 5-6).

The Psalmist’s confident trust in the merciful God becomes a call to the whole nation to put their hope in the Lord, “for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption” (v. 7). Because of the Lord’s unfailing love for them, he was offering them full restoration.

We come back to models and morals, our deep personal disappointments and our deep yearning for God to set things right. Don’t hold back from coming to him. And care for others in the knowledge that they needn’t stay “in the depths” either. They can come “out of the depths” to know his unfailing love, his forgiveness, his full redemption.

Now that’s the easy part. I shared that with the Blue Care staff in the Burdekin a couple of years ago. We’re accustomed to applying that to painful personal issues. It isn’t that we like to hear people’s pain, but we do believe we have a few helpful things we can share with them.

But how do we handle the Church’s pain? Not very well. Whichever way we look at issues that are hurting the Church – the people of God – those issues haven’t and aren’t just going away so we can get back to the basics, back to “business as usual”. We talk so easily about creating a “safe place”, but we need a whole hospital, a place of healing.

In Jeremiah’s time Judah was under threat. Babylon was preparing to attack. Jerusalem would afford no safety. Jeremiah perceived deep spiritual issues that needed to be addressed, but it seemed that prophet and priest alike were side-stepping the issues. He says, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (Jer. 6.14).

As Jesus prepared to send out the twelve on their short “mission” of preparation, he encouraged them not to be afraid of the fierce opposition they might encounter. They would “not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Mt. 10.23). He went on to say, “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell “ (vv. 26-28). The last reference, of course, is to God himself.

Models? or morals? That is the core issue that is deeply troubling and dividing the church world-wide. Do we, as the people of God, live under his Word – his Word that defines sin and finds us out as sinners, his Word that has acted in history to bring redemption, forgiveness, restoration and new life?

With the Lord there is forgiveness. With the Lord there is full redemption for all our sins. Let’s come “out of the depths” and offer the rich life of God to a needy and desperate world.

Roller-Coaster

 

The roller-coaster

draws a crowd,

and, as it races

up and down,

the air is filled

with shouts

and screams,

and screams

and shouts!

Is there

some kind of fun,

exhilaration,

in being scared

out of our wits?

 

In real life

there is no fun

in the roller-coaster

of circumstance

and emotion –

when dark dread

falls on human souls,

when disappointment

and despair

hold us

in their vice,

pin us down

with no escape…

 

Yet not alone!

God knows –

he reaches down

to pluck us

from the depths

of our despair

into the depths

of his love

and care!


© Peter J. Blackburn, Pastoral Relations Committee, Cairns, 11 March 2005
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.


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