Most of us can remember a time in our lives when we felt invincible. Whether as a result of success, prosperity, faith, or simply the blissful ignorance of youth, we have experienced the feeling expressed in this psalm, “I shall never be moved!”
Recently, my 8 year old son was playing a game where you stand on a balance beam over a foam pit and try to bump your competitor off the beam with a large foam object. His first few opponents were easy to bump off into the pit and he cried out, “I’m the king of the world!” just in time to be bumped off himself by his next opponent!
When we find ourselves on top, overcoming all odds, defeating our enemies or competitors, when everything seems to be going our way, we tend to get comfortable and confident that things will always be this good. We may praise the Lord for our good favor, or we may simply praise ourselves for our hard work and remarkable talent, but either way, the Scriptures remind us that no one is invincible. No matter how successful we are in the world, no matter how privileged or prosperous, no matter how much we love Jesus or how righteous we are, or how many good works we do, chances are we will experience suffering.
The testimony of thanksgiving in Psalm 30 reminds us that God does not promise to spare those whom God favors from suffering, but many who cry out to God for healing and help are healed and restored. And when that happens, the most faithful and natural response is praise.
The title of Psalm 30 indicates that it was a psalm of David sung at the dedication of the Temple. It is likely that David wrote the psalm in response to his own personal experience, which seems to include recovering from a life threatening illness. It isn’t hard to understand why this song of thanksgiving was easy for many, and for the nation of Israel as a whole, to embrace as their own. Israel knew what it was like to be on top of the world one moment, and down in the pit the next!
Psalm 30 begins with thanksgiving (v.1-5), offers an honest confession (v.6-10), and ends with a jubilant declaration of praise (v. 11-12). While there isn’t a particular reason given for the suffering endured, the confession concerns an inflated sense of confidence. God’s people are often “dismayed” when we suffer. How could this happen to me? I have a couple in my congregation who, many years ago, lost their soon-to-be-born daughter due to a simple yet tragic fall that cause the baby girl to be born early and she did not survive. While it’s common for people who endure this kind of tragedy to ask “Why did this happen to us?” this couple wisely chose to declare “Why not us?” recognizing that there was nothing special about them would spare them from the suffering of the world.
Whether or not we choose to protest our suffering, the Lord listens when we cry out for help. The words “you have drawn me up” in verse 1 create a vivid picture by using the same word as one would use for pulling a bucket up from a well. Any who have experienced deep despair can resonate with the image of being down in the bottom of a deep, dark well. Whether from illness, grief, financial struggles, loss or misfortune of any kind, we find ourselves unable to scale the walls and climb to a place of freedom and joy. Instead, we have to cry out for help.
Psalm 30 pairs very will with the story of Naaman from 2 Kings. Naaman, an army commander, a mighty warrior, a “great man” in favor with his master through whom the Lord had given victory to the king was suffering with leprosy. How could this be? Even today we tend to be shocked when a famously wealthy, strong, or successful person is diagnosed with a fatal illness. Naaman expects a great act of healing in measure with his own greatness, but instead he’s given simple instructions that take a lesson in humility to follow. One might imagine that after coming out of the healing waters of the Jordan, clean and restored, that Naaman could really embrace the words of this Psalm, making this declaration of praise, along with the confession, his own.
Those who choose to join this song testify to the Lord who does not spare us from suffering, but rescues those who cry out to God for help. Those of us who are privileged in society, who are prosperous in this world, or who have experienced great success confess that we have falsely assumed ourselves to be safe from suffering, above it, invincible, unable to be moved. We testify that while we thought we were secure in our places of power, health, wealth, and prosperity, we inevitably found ourselves down in the pit. From that lowly and mournful place we cried out to the only one who could draw us up, heal us and restore us. And as we praise the Lord for turning our mourning into dancing, we offer hope for those who are currently in places of darkness, “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning!”