Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Cry from the Depths and Hope of the Light (Psalm 130 and 1 John 1:5-2:2)

Psalm 130 is a lament, a crying out from the depths. It’s a plea for help as the psalmist finds himself sinking below the waters of the troubles that have flooded into his life. Is the psalmist going down for the last time, does God even hear his cry… has he been abandoned and left to die? Because of sin has God turned his back?

It’s been gathered into the psalms of ascent, made a pilgrims’ prayer and as the psalmist does not tie his depths down to a specific time and place, a single set of troubles, it invites those coming to worship God in Jerusalem to find themselves in this psalm.

It’s a post exilic Psalm so it invites the pilgrim to identify with God’s people, who had suffered the pain and anguish of the destruction of Jerusalem, and seventy long weary years in Babylon, waiting and hoping that God was not finished with them. Like the sentries on Babylon’s walls looking for the dawn. Looking and looking.

It is a Psalm that could equally invite the pilgrim to remember or cry out from their own depths: Sickness and pain, suffering or hardship, sorrow and grief.

It’s a psalm that we may also find ourselves in. A psalm uttered in hospital ward, in the wake of the loss of a loved one, in relationship breakdown, life crumbling and dragging us down, injustice or abuse.

It’s a psalm that has been raised throughout the history of God’s people. It’s a psalm whose cry echoes in the concert halls of Paris, Manchester and this very week Las Vegas. That could be heard rising over the wind as Hurricane bears down on Caribbean Island, and whispered in the aftermath of devastation, when life’s all been blown away. Shouted at the heavens when we see things like military forces descend and burn Rohingya village after Rohingya village  in the Rakine state of Myanmar. As a lament it fits right in.

But Psalm 130 is also a psalm of hope. It’s spoken in the long dark night, but it looks forward to the dawn of a new day: to God who is light. It is a Psalm of faith uttered in the depth, it finishes with a declaration of God’s unfailing love and the redemption of God’s people.

The hope comes in the very nature of God. That God does not hold sin against us, writing them down in some divine leger, so he can then write us off, throw us away like a bad investment, or wastage, rather God forgives and restores.  That is not a cheap grace, as E M Blaiklock says ,it  is not as if God were an ‘indulgent Father or an equally fallible friend’ who simply lets us off the hook consequence free, so we can keep going our own way.  Rather as 1 John 1:9 says he forgives because he is ‘faithful and just’ that as we know his forgiveness and his character, we might come to serve him with reverence.

Psalm 130 is a post exilic psalm and Israel knows God forgives sin and restores because they as a remnant had come back to Jerusalem, rebuilt and restarted their lives as God’s worshipping people. God has been faithful to his covenant with Israel, both in sending them into exile, being with them in that exile and hearing their cry and bringing them back again. That is the confidence that the psalmist has in Go’s character, that is the hope of the dawn as he waits in the dark night, it is the hope of the rescue from the depths.

The psalm is uttered in the night of waiting but it looks forward. Not only to God’s intervention in the psalmists personal problem but it looks forward to the coming of God’s light into the world, to the fulfilment of God’s promise to redeem his people from their sin, in the coming of his son Jesus Christ. Not just to pull us from the depths of trouble and strife, but to enable us to have our sins forgiven and be reconciled with God. Pulled out of the depth of sin and death to abundant new life, that is eternal because it is lived in relationship with our eternal God. Our freedom bought by the costly sacrifice of Christ on the cross, a freedom to serve God with reverence.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have the dawn of a new day, we can know the confidence that the psalmist does that in God there is forgiveness of sin, we can know the assurance that as we confess our sin, that God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. With the psalmist we too look forward to the full brightness of that new day when Christ will banish all the darkness of night.

Maybe we all have our own stories of crying to God from the very real depths of life, hoping that God hears and is attentive to our prayer. We’ve had long dark nights where we have sort not only the dawn of the day but the hope that God would shine his light on our situation. Maybe you find yourself in those flood waters today…We have the assurance of God unfailing love shown in his dealing with that most basic and core human need the need for forgiveness and a fresh start. An assurance that our cries are heard and God answers as we await his light to shine afresh on us.  

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