I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief. I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart.
Can you relate to this kind of suffering, either in body or soul?
When life sideswipes you and leaves you bruised and bleeding by the side of the road, do you ever wonder if you’re being punished? If you believe in the sovereignty of God, the thought must cross your mind: Why did God allow this to happen to me?
Of course, there are any number of reasons why God does what he does, and he doesn’t often feel it necessary to share his reasons with us. (Not that we would understand even if he did). But the guy in Psalm 38 is clearly suffering at the hand of God:
Your arrows have struck deep, and your blows are crushing me. Because of your anger, my whole body is sick.
And he has no doubt that he’s to blame:
My health is broken because of my sins. My guilt overwhelms me — it is a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins.
When you find yourself in a heap of trouble and you know you’re innocent, you can easily call out to God for help. But when you suspect you might be the cause of your own trouble, or worse, that God himself is disciplining you for your sin, you might not be so quick to run to him.
This Psalmist responds:
O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your rage!
He is beyond trying to defend himself, beyond making excuses. What can he do but throw himself on the mercy of God? His only hope is that God knows him:
You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh. My heart beats wildly, my strength fails, and I am going blind.
Even though his circumstances haven’t changed, he knows God sees him, and not just like an all seeing eye looking down on the earth and its creatures, but as an intimate friend sees and knows his longings, hears his sighs. Yes, in the middle of all this discipline, God understands him to the very core of his being.
People around him don’t always know how to respond:
My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease. Even my own family stands at a distance. Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me. Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me. All day long they plan their treachery.
But he has already laid himself bare before God, no more hiding. He has no need to defend himself. Indeed, he has no defense:
But I am deaf to all their threats. I am silent before them as one who cannot speak. I choose to hear nothing, and I make no reply.
He has no other hope but the mercy of God:
For I am waiting for you, O Lord. You must answer for me, O Lord my God. I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me or rejoice at my downfall.” I am on the verge of collapse, facing constant pain. But I confess my sins; I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
Having repented and confessed his sin, he has made things right with God. He is now “pursuing good,” but his troubles have not disappeared:
I have many aggressive enemies; they hate me without reason. They repay me evil for good and oppose me for pursuing good.
Whether we suffer for doing wrong or right, we are at his mercy. At no time are we deserving of his goodness, but he is always our Savior.
Do not abandon me, O Lord. Do not stand at a distance, my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my savior.
The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone — as though we had never been here.
But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him.”