Psalm 6: A reflection

anguishFor the director of music. With stringed instruments. According to sheminith.

A psalm of David.

1O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.

2 Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony.

3 My soul is in anguish.
How long, O LORD, how long?

4 Turn, O LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.

5 No one remembers you when he is dead.
Who praises you from the grave?

6 I am worn out from 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 ashamed and dismayed;
they will turn back in disgrace.

The problem with a hymnody that focuses on equilibrium, coherence, and symmetry (as in the psalms of orientation) is that it may deceive and cover over. Life is not like that. Life is so savagely marked by incoherence, a loss of balance, and unrelieved asymmetry.[1]

What strikes me most about Psalm 6 is that (like Job), when under the cloud of defeat, David doesn’t whinge to others, nor does he use the occasion to cultivate a calloused heart toward God. Fear, pain and distress constitute his world (and little else, or so it would seem). And his enemies want him dead.

But David turns to God. His turning constitutes a refusal to settle for things as they are, a snub to recognise the world as it would seem. His song is an act of relentless hope that considers that no situation falls outside of God’s capacity for transformation, nor of God’s responsibility.[2] Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III, in their book Cry of the Soul: How our emotions reveal our deepest questions about God, recall that:

The Psalms do not offer an analytical treatment of emotions. They are not a how-to text from which we can extrapolate four easy steps to resolving difficult emotions. Such simplistic reductions of our inner world, and of life itself, strip the heart of calling out to God in the darkness of His mysterious involvement with us. Instead, the Psalms invite us to question God. But they do this in the context of worship – they were the hymnal used in public worship. God invites us to bring before Him our rage, doubt, and terror – but He intends for us to do so as part of worship.[3]

So David calls out to God, and he recalls, among other things, God’s unfailing love.

Yet what if we were to listen in on this prayer as if it were not only David’s, but also that of a frightened man in Gethsemane, afraid that his impending death would mean the end of fellowship with God. ‘Who praises you from the grave?’ There is no resurrection hope here. So Thielicke:

Sheol [is] the land of no return, which means exclusion from God’s saving dealings with his community. Since salvation is history – in God’s mighty acts and in worship – exclusion from history is particularly painful. It involves the contradiction that on the one side life is ordained for God’s honor and praise and the other side is lost in the land of no return.[4]

When the Son takes on flesh and becomes Jesus, he becomes our brother, fully identifies with us in all the experiences of life, entering into the depth of creaturely existence ‘so savagely marked by incoherence, a loss of balance, and unrelieved asymmetry’. And as our brother, he dies our death, the death of all. All humanity enters Sheol in him.

And on the third day … Jesus – and humanity in him – turned to God.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 25.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Theology: Essays on Structure, Theme, and Text (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 29.

[3] Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III, Cry of the Soul: How our emotions reveal our deepest questions about God (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1994), 37.

[4] Helmut Thielicke, The Evangelical Faith, Volume Three: Theology of the Spirit (ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 401.

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