The Psalms overflow with the mystery of living. Psalm 6 struggles with what may be some physical illness. This psalm certainly speaks to those of us who have languished in the pain or fear or misery of our body’s un-health and dis-ease.
Ever since our earliest history, we humans have wondered if our physical circumstances could be the result of some sin of ours; some failure to please the gods.
Does the drought or the flood come because of sin?
Did the cancer or heart failure happen because of a life style or the thoughts of our most secret heart?
Are we being punished? Or disciplined? The psalmist seems to think so.
O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
Probably a faithful response to this dilemma may be “maybe.”
Or “Yes” AND “No.”
We moderns have learned the power of the psyche and its influence over the physical. “Psycho-somatic” is not a put-down; thoughts, feelings, emotions really can create physical realities.
We moderns have seen how our own patterns of exercise, our eating and drinking habits can contribute to preventable but deadly conditions.
We moderns have understood the consequences of our actions within our environment. Polluted water, soil and air really can create cancers and way too many other diseases.
So “no” – I don’t think God reaches out from heaven and zaps us with depression, diabetes or asbestos poisoning as punishment for our wrongs.
But “yes,” our actions have consequences. And yes, we may have opportunity to learn some important lessons from the “discipline” of life’s challenges so that we may change our ways for the future.
That said, no matter what caused the sickness, dis-ease or un-health, the psalmist stands firm in the promises of God’s covenant. No matter what foolishness I have engaged in; no matter what recklessness someone else may have inflicted upon me – even so – nevertheless – we count on God for faithfulness, salvation and healing. Not because we deserve it, not because we are faithful enough but rather because God is always faithful enough. “For the sake of God‘s steadfast love.”
For the sake of the cosmic witness and testimony to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise?
Does this idea bother you? That Scripture sometimes describes God as “repenting” ? If so, it’s probably because we badly understand the concept of “repentance.” In biblical language, repenting doesn’t mean feeling badly, feeling sorry, feeling ashamed of what we have done. Repentance doesn’t have much of anything to do with feelings.
Rather, repentance is action. A reversal, a turning. Stopping one way of acting and beginning another very different action.
The psalmist entreats God to turn, to cease the inactive waiting and start to do something. Begin the healing, redeeming, saving that is God’s nature and work.
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears…
Who else has been here – flooding your bed with tears and staring into space with a paralyzing self-pity? Once again, the psalmists articulate the human condition and remind us that we are not alone in our suffering. There is nothing sinful about feeling sad, angry, hopeless and helpless. This is the condition of finite mortals in a universe that does not bend to our control.
When I used to care for church folks, I always tried to affirm their emotions as completely normal; a logical response to an unfair, unsettling or uncomfortable circumstance. Sometimes when I would pray with them, I would pray these psalms and name the cancer or the other dis-eases as “the enemy.” Not that I thought of them as an evil power in themselves; demons able to inflict tragedy upon innocents. I do, however, think of these conditions as part of the “evil” and brokenness of our fallen world. Something that exists that God did not, does not intend for us.
This is not the understanding of some people. There are some very pious believers who are so committed to assign all power to God and to submit to God’s sovereignty that they figure everything that comes in life must come directly from the hand of God. If God is all-powerful, then everything must happen by the will of God. For them, it’s all about God.
In some other versions of Christian thinking, there is a heresy that claims sickness can be prayed away if a person has enough faith. It claims that illness or poverty or tragedy is proof that someone lacks faith. It claims faith as a magic talisman against evil; that “enough faith” (and maybe “enough” financial donations!) will protect us from any negative experience. For them, it’s all about us.
Surely our psalmist is thoroughly theo-centric. For him, life IS all about God but, what that means for the psalmist, is that God is IN everything that happens. But also, life IS about us; no matter our emotions or feelings, we can still choose to trust God IN everything that happens.
Even as his faith assures him that the Lord has heard his weeping, acknowledged his supplication, accepted his prayer, the psalmist recognizes that his circumstances may not magically change. And so in the midst of the weeping, we too can trust and rest and wait.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication;
the Lord accepts my prayer.