From Despair to Hope

Psalm 130 and John 3: 16-17

We are focusing on Lament Psalms for this Lenten season. Lament returns our attention to God – and as we lament together we become a community with greater connection to God. Lament offers us a chance to grieve for what is wrong in life, and provides a way to express our deep regret about our sin, as well a way to express our hope for forgiveness and future restoration. Lament is a petition in the middle of trouble – and Psalm 130 offers us a model of how to share our despair and our faith in a time of crisis. Psalm 130 begins with an Individual lament over despair and personal sin and then moves into a communal address. In this psalm, anguish and prayer for forgiveness lead to reverence towards God.

We cry out to God in distress. We’ve probably all been there. In the depths of despair we cry out to God because there is no one else to cry out to…no one else who can make any kind of difference or provide any help.

Perhaps we’ve felt despair when 1. we’ve done all we know how to do and a relationship is failing nonetheless. 2. Or when a loved one is seriously ill and the doctors have no hope to offer. 3. Or when we are so lost in despair, or addiction, or grief that it hurts just to draw a breath and we really would like to just stop breathing. Have you been there? In that place where life hurts so much that we would just rather not live? So we cry out to God… It’s just normal to cry out to God when we are in distress.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

The Latin for “depths” is de profundus – the chaotic primeval forces that threaten destruction, devastation and death that are often symbolized in the Bible by “deep waters.” “The depths” is actually a shortened version of “the depths of the waters,” found in Ezekiel 27:34, referring to the “last audible breath of a person being pulled under by deep floodwaters.” That person cries out to God from the troubles that threaten to choke and drown them. They cry out to God because there is no place to stand. Walter Brueggeman says this psalm resonates with us because it is “the miserable cry of a nobody from nowhere.” And so that soul cries out to God.

    Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive     to the voice of my supplications!

This is a pattern with the people of God. God’s people cry out to God when they were in distress. The book of Exodus begins with a cry of distress over the oppression in Egypt – and so Israel Cried to the Lord… and God responded to their distress. And when time and time again they found themselves captive to idolatry and sin…they cried to the Lord. And God responded to their distress.

b. It is somehow worse when the trouble is our own sin. The abyss or depths seem to press down on us more fiercely at those times -- when we have wandered so far from the path of life that we wonder if we could ever be found again.

Denial. We are better at denial and excuses, actually. We very rarely confront our own sin. We are better, truly, at avoiding it, excusing it, denying it. Either “everybody does it,” or we are better than some other folks we could name…or it doesn’t matter, doesn’t hurt anybody, is nobody’s business.

But sometimes our sin smacks us upside the head …or we are sick and tired of being sick and tired…or moments with God have made us inescapably aware of our own sinfulness and the problems sin is causing us. Sin is the root problem that messes up our lives, damages our relationships, and sets all of life awry. And when we have to admit it despite our pride …its hard. Perhaps because then we know we are responsible. Perhaps to admit that our sin is the problem, we must have run out of other things to blame.

  • our stubbornness out of the way

  • our sense of self-sufficiency out of the way

  • our self-justification out of the way

  • our SELVES out of the way – then we can confess our sinfulness.

Then our sin just stares us in the face. The psalmist says that sin is more than a mistake – it is what “cracks open the dike, releasing the chaotic waters that destroy life. For him, sin matters not because it sends us to hell but because it makes LIFE hell.” This is “godly sorrow,” an awareness of personal sin acknowledges that God is greater than our sin.

Sin is simply this: separation from God. We are all sinful. We all push God to the margins of our lives in order to focus on something else, something important or pleasurable, or…Whatever… we know the story – we have all lived it!

When we can deny our sin no longer… we cry out to God…

The journey out of the depths begins with a single step – confession with hope of forgiveness means we can ask for mercy. We have reason to believe mercy is a likely outcome.

The psalmist’s faith and hope lead to this confession, to starting over. It’s possible because of the nature of God to forgive. This bold prayer, with trust in God so great that God’s forgiveness is stated as fact. Hope in God’s mercy, and tendency to forgive, keeps the psalmist going.

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,     Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with you,     so that you may be revered.

When we need forgiveness, where else would we go, after all? A friend who would excuse our worst excesses gives no relief. When we need forgiveness, we need to lay it all before God. This is how to bridge the distance and separation caused by our sin. This is how to begin to identify the ways that our sins negatively impact others. Glen Pemberton says, “Lament is the practice of being honest with God” – and when we confess, we lay it all out there – all our brokenness, all our sins and shortcomings – all our shame. We have to begin with being honest about ourselves with God.

The first step towards recovery is acknowledging that we are out of control and cannot help ourselves. We need a higher power…something beyond ourselves.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader….Eustace --- becoming new. Opening sentence and then no longer a dragon scene. All the old has to disappear…

God is particularly attentive to cries from nobodies from nowhere. There is somehow a direct connection between the depths of the earth and the throne of heaven.

The journey out of the depths begins with confession with hope of mercy, made possible by the forgiving and merciful nature of God. The psalmist insists that it is God’s nature to forgive – you would almost think she/he was a Methodist with all of this emphasis on God’s grace! God’s nature is to be merciful and forgiving – therefore we should worship God. God hears – and responds to these desperate cries for rescue and forgiveness with just what we need: rescue, forgiveness, a new beginning.

The psalmist concludes with an affirmation of faith and hope in God. God’s forgiveness leads us to gratitude and worship, even a longing for God’s…like a “bleary-eyed night sentry” watching for the first light of dawn,” which means “the end of a dangerous night and the beginning of quiet rest in the safety of light.” For a night watchman, the dawn brings and end to the dangers of the night (night attacks were common and the watchman was responsible for adequate warning) – and also the relief of relinquishing responsibility to another and the possibility of rest.

5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,     and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord     more than those who watch for the morning,     more than those who watch for the morning.

And then the psalmist encourages Israel to put their trust and hope in the Lord. The closing message of the psalm is to revere God, to worship God who will redeem Israel.

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!     For with the Lord there is steadfast love,     and with Yahweh is great power to redeem. 8 It is Yahweh who will redeem Israel     from all its iniquities.

The Compassion of God. Compassion is one of the primary characteristics of God mentioned in the Bible. The image in Isaiah is of God as a nursing mother who would never forget the children whom she has birthed. And then this verse in John chapter 3:

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Belove. Biblical scholar Marcus Borg says that “Until a few centuries ago, to believe meant to belove…To belove God, to center in God, has an additional crucial meaning. To belove God means to love what God loves. What does God love?” We heard it in our scripture reading…” the world.

God so loved the world – not the church, not Christians --- the world so much that God sent Jesus into the world to be vulnerable, to live with us. God’s passion is the well-being of the world and that is the reason for the incarnation, which means Jesus coming in human form. And to everyone who beloves in Jesus --- which means faithfulness, trust, commitment, loyalty or allegiance the beloved – that means loving what he loves, the world. These people will have eternal life which doesn’t mean an afterlife, but “the life of the age to come.” We can live the new age by centering on God as known in Jesus. This isn’t about eternity -- Jesus is NOW the resurrection and the life – and the way from death to life. NOW.

The Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil is covered in flags of all of the countries having COVID-16. Because NOW Jesus prays for the world’s suffering. NOW he offers us life in the new age. Even in our social isolation. Even in the midst of a devastating virus. Even in our fear – Jesus is the life NOW. That is where our hope lies.

God who is present with us in the depths – is the one who shows compassion for us – even enough to send Jesus to live with us. That is the ground of our hope, no matter the struggles or circumstances. There is no place or circumstance that is beyond God’s reach – God’s loving and redeeming presence and power.

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!     For with the Lord there is steadfast love,     and with him is great power to redeem. 8 It is he who will redeem Israel     from all its iniquities.

1 Borg, Jesus, 308. 2 Vroegop, 168. 3 NIBC Psalms, 1205. 4 Glen Pemberton, 79. 5 Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, 104. 6 Westermann, 262. 7 Pemberton, 79. 8 Pemberton, 86. 9 Bruggemann, Message, 105. 10 Glenn Pemberton, Hurting with God, 77. 11 Brueggemann, Message, 105. 12 Pemberton, 80.

Photo by Faris Mohammed on Unsplash