For the director of music. With stringed instruments. According to sheminith. A psalm of David.
1 LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint;
heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.
3 My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, LORD, how long?
4 Turn, LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
Who praises you from the grave?
6 I am worn out from my 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 overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.
This is the first of the so-called Penitential Psalms. Psalm 6 is a personal lament Psalm a petition for relief from suffering. Bible commentator Peter Craigie calls it “A Prayer of Sickness.” But is this Penitential Psalm about Sin? With the exception of the opening verse where the psalmist cries, “Do not rebuke me in your anger/ do not chastise me in your wrath” there is no hint of wrong doing by the author. Instead this psalm lays bare personal anguish. The psalmist is feeble–physically suffering and disturbed in the depths of his soul. He longs for salvation and the lovingkindness (covenant love) of God. And yet the psalmist is overwhelmed with thoughts of death, with sickness, with crying and grief. At the heart of his suffering he feels abandoned by God.
I’ve heard many a preacher say, “If you feel distant from God, guess who moved?” This phrase is to warn us of the dangers of our ever wandering heart. But the writer of Psalm 6 doesn’t feel like he’s moving. If anything, he feels stuck. But he longs for God, for restoration and life. This psalm gives words to the experience of sadness, grief, sickness, abandonment and physical anguish. This is why Christians through the ages have associated this Psalm with our response to personal sin. Ought we not feel broken and sad when we know what our sin cost God? This psalm names the appropriate response to our wickedness.
When I think about this I wonder: when the last time I felt anguish for the state of my soul? I tend to think of myself as not too bad. Sometimes I feel bad about something I’ve said or did but this doesn’t occupy my thoughts for too long. In a consumer culture I always have something at my finger tips which promises relief from personal anxiety. I can escape my problems by reading a good book or watching a bad movie. I can gorge myself on copious amounts of chocolate or with a good glass (bottle) of wine. I seldom consider the depths of my sin, and if I do, I do not do it very long. Yet Lent is a time for taking an honest look at yourself. So I am a sinner, but I do not know personal suffering of the magnitude that the Psalmist describes. I have had my share of hard times and personal anxiety. I long for more joy, peace and contentment in my life. I have felt grief and a myriad of little aches and pains, but this Psalm invites me deeper: to a place of total brokenness for my sin.
The brokenness of the Psalmist does not end in brokenness. The Lord hears his cries and the anguishing, “How Long?” I think the lesson in praying this Psalm is that God is the God who hears. You do not need to deny your sorry estate. You do not need to repress personal disappointment and anguish of the soul. You do not need to numb your perceptions with sensual pleasures. When you turn to God with your Sin and suffering, He will bring healing and restoration.
This Psalm is good news for my sin-sick-soul. When I read it, I ask God to feel more fully the weight of my sins. But I am no masochist. God in Christ has paid for my sins and will restore to life and health the parts of me that are marred by sinfulness. The God who hears will not leave me to suffer but will surround me with His mercy and Grace.