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Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.

We have all be there, haven’t we? The depths; those dark places, the places of pain, the places of isolation, the places of grief, depression, anxiety, addiction, suffering, anger, resentment.

It is here our world feels upside down. Our life, where once we felt entirely in control, has begun to spiral out of our reach. We are not sure there’s a light at the end of this tunnel, and these feelings can come with all sorts of experiences.

For those in our congregations, and for us as pastors, these moments in the depths can play tricks on our hearts, minds and souls. They leave us asking ourselves if it is our fault. What if we had more faith? Should we be praying more? If we trusted God more, maybe the darkness would not be so thick.

Something is wrong with us, we feel. God must be disappointed in us. Leaving us with the belief that we must not dare approach God with our problems until we figure things out. Until we get our behavior under control, or until we get our lives situated. Until we get our anger managed or we get our minds and passions under control.

Until that happens, we would not dare approach God. We would be mortified if God saw us this way. Which leaves us in an uncertain place; not entirely confident of our place in this world and, more painfully, uncertain of God’s place in relation to our pain.

Contrary to how this might feel, these moments in the depths are experienced by all. This is basic stuff. We ALL feel this way. Doubt, pain, suffering all have ways of causing us to reevaluate our place with the divine.

The Psalmist gives language to this shared experience.

“Out of the depths I cry to you”…the psalmist writes. From this place, they cry out to God, and it is from here, in the darkest moment of his life, he makes a stunning declaration about the proximity of God.

Walter Brueggemann explains it well:

“Where should the ruler of reality be addressed? One might think it should be from a posture of obedience, or at least from a situation of prosperity and success, indicating conformity to the blessed order of creation. One ought to address the king suitably dressed, properly positioned, with a disciplined, well-modulated voice.”[1]

We all know this feeling. The temptation to get ourselves put together before coming before God, to clean ourselves up, to put on our best outfits and learn the best theology, and repair our relationships. We believe the holiness of God demands we get our hurts, habits and hangouts worked out and find the right mix of medications and get our house in order. This, however, is a mistake.

Brueggemann goes on to explain that our attempts to manufacture our holiness fail to see the beauty in the human-divine relationship.

“This psalm, though, is a miserable cry of a nobody from nowhere. The cry penetrates the veil of heaven! It’s heard and received. The cries from the depth are the voices to which Yahweh is particularly attuned. This God is palpable, available- a staggering comment both about God and about the speaker. Moreover, the Lord is attentive to and moved by the beggar. A new solidarity is forged in the moment of speaking between the Lord and “the least,” a new binding between the throne and the depths.”[2]

The speaker acknowledges while we are unqualified to approach the throne, we are still invited. How is this possible? There is forgiveness.

The Psalmist writes:

But with you there is forgiveness,     so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

On the surface, it is easy to believe the forgiveness being spoken of is the forgiveness of some unknown sin, the specifics of which were not given. However, this powerfully declared divine originating forgiveness is not just a response to some wrong or failing (though, that is indeed available). It is bigger and more scandalous. Forgiveness is the baseline. Forgiveness is the beginning.

This sort of forgiveness is the core from which everything flows, and it is DNA of new life and the initiation of new birth. Forgiveness as the center. In this Divine relationship, grace is the soil from which everything grows and draws its life. Forgiveness is the center of this entire prayer.[3]

Here the psalmist is declaring something important. In God, there is the readiness and capacity to cancel the brokenness within us and an eagerness to begin again.

So, to recap: We are undeserving to approach the divine, yet we are invited. This is only possible because the “ruler of reality” rules from a foundation of forgiveness.

The weight of this cannot be rushed past. The Psalmist makes sure we take the proper time to reflect.

But with you there is forgiveness,     so that we can, with reverence, serve you. With You there is forgiveness, and out of reverence, I serve You. 

The word used here, depending on translation, alternates between reverence or fear. A reality difficult for any to wrap our minds around. How do we both love and fear God? The answer lies at the heart of the Psalm.

First, we must take note of the order.

First, there is Forgiveness then there is reverence.

It is easy to believe true faith is formed out of fear. We choose heaven to avoid hell. How many of us heard sermons about Hell and how we should follow God so we do not go there?

This Psalm shows us a different path. Forgiveness leads us to respect. We see the character of God- in all, it’s power and majesty- and the weight of it overcomes us.

Moreover, it creates in us a profound awe.

Barbara Brown Taylor says it beautifully:

“The king is not safe. The King is sovereign, which means that he is frightening because his subjects have no control over him. He does not ask their advice before he acts. He is no ones pet. His rescue of them may be as hair-tasing as what he is rescuing them from, but he is good, which means he can be trusted. If they will just press through their fear of him, he will save them. If they will just climb on his back as he tells them to and hang on for dear life, he will carry them home.

While there is plenty for us to fear, there is also plenty for us to hope. The God who does not break promises can be trusted to go on creating the world out of darkness and chaos, putting breath into our dust and dry bones, turning our lives and deaths inside out in order to set us free. We may not always approve of God’s methods, but fortunately our approval is not required. God will save us somehow, if we will just stay out of the way.”[4]

Psalm 130 gives us an essential truth about the spiritual life:

Respect leads to hope.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,     and in his word I put my hope.

Brueggemann reminds us the words “wait” and “hope” are rough synonyms. That Waiting-hoping is like watchman at night, waiting early and expectantly for the relief that comes with daybreak.[5]

It’s here we can connect with our congregations. Many in our pews find themselves in the depths, fearful of a vengeful God and unable to see any path to wholeness and healing. This Psalm gives us a beautiful image for what this journey can look like. It’s not a road that leads us to cheap grace, nor is it a road that places these impossible and weighty standards on our shoulders. 

Instead, it is the belief that we serve a hospitable God. A God who finishes what is started and, while uncontrollable, is deeply good. Somewhere in this mix of awe, fear, and trust our lives will be transformed. Forgiveness leads to liberation from life as it is presently organized. Our cries set new life in motion.

[1] The Message of the Psalms”, pg 104

[2] Ibid, emphasis mine.

[3] The Message of the Psalms”, pg 105

[4] The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor, pg 64

[5] The Message of the Psalms”, pg 106



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