Psalm 6, "Hope for the Hopeless"
Two of my best friends from high school and university are twins. Now as far as identical twins go, they’re actually fairly distinctive and fairly easy to tell apart. However, one of the biggest things they had in common was their taste in music. They went to university in different states, so whenever they got together they would compare their new additions to their music collection and it was pretty much a given that they would feel the exact same way about any song or album. I spent a lot of time with these two fellows, so naturally I heard a lot of their music. It was very redundant as they liked a lot of hard rock and metal. I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics. However, some of these harder bands would have one or two softer ballads on their albums that were actually quite beautiful and filled with a lot of emotion. As we come to Psalm 6, it is often labeled as a Psalm of penitence or repentance, but it actually identifies more accurately as a Psalm of lament. So a very heartfelt and emotional song, that uses very strong emotional language, similar to a modern day ballad. The opening instructions specify for this Psalm to be played with stringed instruments. The Hebrew translates literally as “an eight” which would indicate an eight stringed lyre. This was a an instrument that played at a lower bass octave to accompany the intense lyrics of lament. [READ Psalm 6]
I want us to take special note of the emotional language used here. Anger, wrath, rebuke, discipline, languish, troubled, moaning, grief, flood my bed with tears, drench my couch with weeping, weak. There’s a lot happening within David’s heart. The emotions we feel, or the lack thereof are a good indicator what is actually happening within our hearts. Emotions are very valuable and useful, but they require us to have a right understanding of them.
My two kids are both at ages where they’re experiencing more and more new emotions and trying to figure out what to do with them. Timothy especially tends to get overwhelmed more often which results in sprawling on the floor and throwing a tantrum. This happens much less frequent with Abigail, but it does still happen. When it does, one of the ways that we’ve been able to help her understand what’s happening is by talking about one of the movies she watches. The movie is a cartoon about a wild stallion in the old west. The stallion is strong and wild and free. It becomes captured and its new owners try to break him so he will be completely compliant. Throughout the film, the animal falls into the hands of a young native man who doesn't try to control the horse, but train it which also ends up being of benefit to the horse as well. But for the free stallion, he saw the calvary soldiers and the native boy as the same. They both hindered his freedom, therefore, he simply fought and rebelled and caused a lot of destruction.
For my two toddlers, it’s easy for their emotions to take over. When that happens, there is no conversation happening and no logic or reasoning to be understood. Their emotions are like the strong untamed stallion. Any attempt to guide them is met as a fight. Their emotions take over and my children no longer have full control over their physical actions or even their words. Sadly, too many of us have never learned to control our emotions. Regardless of what we may know to be true, we are ruled by whatever we feel. We become dangerous and unpredictable creatures that continue to cause damage until we achieve whatever state our current driving emotion desires. And then our emotions change for some unpredictable reason and the same storm and destruction unfolds.
On the other hand, it is not helpful or healthy for us to think that our emotions are merely meaningless feelings that cloud and distort judgment and must therefore be totally suppressed and ignored. This also causes harm. For example, let me now talk about something that might not seem connected or relatable at all, but bear with me for a moment. In the world of nutrition and dietary health, a number of new trends and conditions have become predominant in the last few years. You’ve probably noticed the high number of new allergies, the predominance of certain allergies such as peanuts, and even the high number of people who are not able to eat common foods such as dairy and gluten. We have some people in our own congregation who get sick and experience a great amount of pain and discomfort when they eat these foods. There never seems to be an end to new diets, but the diet that’s getting a lot of attention and support currently, especially from the medical world is the Paleo diet. The word Paleo is short for Paleolithic, which refers to the stone age and the cave man. The Paleo diet is based on the theory of evolutionary science. It’s the premise that we have evolved from cavemen and animals and even though we’ve evolved mentally and developed new methods and strategies for feeding ourselves, like going to the grocery store instead of going hunting, that our bodies haven’t evolved to that point and therefore aren’t meant to eat many of the foods that we do eat. Therefore, the diet is based on the idea that we should fully acknowledge our evolutionary ancestry and still eat a caveman diet.
Let me first say that if you legitimately have food allergies or conditions that actually cause pain and harm to your body, then you should by all means be wise and careful about what you put into your body. That’s being a good steward of what God has given you, because even our flesh and our every breath is a gift from Him that we should use wisely. Under that same token it is important that we eat wisely and responsibly and do our best to have a healthy body. However, as a Christian, there is a danger to being completely sucked into the Paleo lifestyle. One might say, “I only eat Paleo, but I believe in Christ”. It’s one thing to avoid unhealthy foods or foods that may be unhealthy for us personally, but it is another thing entirely when you completely change your lifestyle to follow certain regiments that aren’t fully based on truth but a theory that at it’s very core and essence opposes the existence and nature of the Lord whom we love and serve. When you are more obedient to an evolutionary theory than you are to your Lord and Savior and promote your diet and encourage others to live by the same standards, then what are you really saying with your life. Again, one might say they don’t believe evolution, but there’s a huge disconnect. I believe God created us but I live by evolution because it gets me the results I want. I believe God in my head, but in my life I eat this way because I haven’t fully evolved. What??!! A huge disconnect.
So what in the world does the Paleo diet have to do with emotion and Psalm 6?
It’s your worldview. Your worldview is the lens through which you perceive the world and engage with it. The gospel is all encompassing. You may not find words or writings about the Paleo diet or mental conditions and disorders or specific medicines, but if your faith is fully in Christ then we will attempt to engage every question through the eyes of our Lord and His word. When we don’t, that’s where disconnects come in. Those disconnects are holes in our faith; they’re hypocrisy.
If we believe or do one thing, but yet suppress and ignore all emotion, we might be ignoring some truth we know to be true but perhaps don’t want to acknowledge. Also, if our emotions conflict with truth and scripture and we follow our emotions, that also is a disconnect. It’s like living by an evolutionary theory but claiming to believe in creation.God addresses emotion all over the Bible. God himself has emotion as we see in this very text. God has given us emotion. So the question then becomes, what do we do with it? We match it to the word. If there is a disconnect between our feelings and our beliefs, then the emotion is indicating to us that at some level we actually believe what we feel, even if it’s not true. The goal for us is to have a harmony between our emotions and the truth. Our emotions can be indicators of sin in our heart that needs to be addressed. Guilt and conviction for example, can lead us to recognizing and repenting of sin. Emotions are a blessing from God, but we need to use them wisely.
In verse 1, David acknowledges that God is angry with him and is disciplining him. We know that God is holy and just. In fact, in Psalm 5 we see David plea for God to show his justice and righteousness. So God is now showing His justice and righteousness in David’s life by disciplining him, and David’s response is “Stop! Please! It’s too much! Be gracious!”
In verse 2 we see that David is languishing, or withering away under God’s rebuke. “Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled.” His bones and soul are troubled. What does that mean? If I sleep wrong, I wake up stiff and achy and tired. I don’t want to face my day. I want to go back to bed, to feel rested, to feel good, to feel ready to take on my day. I feel troubled, but that’s not at all what David is talking about. The Hebrew word for troubled actually means disturbed or terrified. David is so deeply troubled and terrified that he physically feels it. And even more than that, it’s so far beyond a mere thought, but he is terrified and shaken to the very depths of his soul.
This is where we need to be aware of our emotional disconnects. David acknowledges that the source of this specific trouble lies within the consequences of his own sin which separates him from God. He asks not just for forgiveness, but physical healing. That does not at all mean that every pain and sickness we experience is a direct result of a specific sin. All suffering comes from sin to some extent, that’s the broken world we live in which is a direct result of sin. But that doesn’t mean that you see someone with a cast and say “oh, a broken arm huh? Better watch the swearing. Cancer? oh man, what did you do?! Quick, repent. Repent!” I am so thankful for God’s gift of medicine and gifted physicians. My life, my wife’s and my daughter’s lives have all been spared at the hand of modern medicine. But what if we feel physical or emotional distress that actually has it’s root in sin like David’s. I’m thankful for medicine, but you need to have a proper diagnosis. You will never cure sin with an aspirin. But oh how we try. Maybe it’s aspirin, maybe it’s morphine, or alcohol, or pornography, or even just noise and busyness.
The second half of verse 3; “But you, O Lord - how long?” David acknowledges the sin in his life and God’s discipline. He asks for mercy and healing, and then we see this broken sentence. He is so overcome with his anguish that he can’t even finish his sentence. He pauses, then blurts out this question. How long? Not why. He knows why. He is humble enough to accept his guilt, but he readily admits that he can’t take it. How long, because I’m nearly done.
Verses 4-5. David pleas for God to turn or return, but of course God never left. David left God in disobedience. “God, I went off the path and got stuck in the snowbank again. Please turn aside and save me again or else I’m going to freeze to death in this ditch.” David paints the picture that he is near death. He asks God to save him not based on a belief that there was no heaven, but from the confidence that he was God’s child, chosen king of Israel, and therefore lived for the purpose of glorifying God and living out the picture of the blessing and joy of serving God. David is in a situation where he has lost all hope. That’s why he asks how long because he sees no end in sight, he has no hope or ability to endure or overcome. He’s a dead man walking and he pleas with God to save him that he might give more glory to God and hope to others.
If you’ve ever lost hope, then you understand verse 6 and 7. If you have no hope, then you at least want an escape. David’s bed and couch. Sleep, rest, relaxation, entertainment, or even just simple pleasures as Jewish custom was to eat while reclining on a couch. When you are living in depression, in hopelessness, there is no escape. You lie down to sleep, and your mind races through every worry and problem. You try distraction. You go out with friends or sit down for a movie and no sooner does it start then you start looking at your watch and counting the minutes until it’s done or you can leave and go home. There’s no relief anywhere. There’s no hope anywhere. And that hopelessness is what is at the core of David’s despair.
There period of my life where I was quite depressed between almost three years. I was looking for the cause, looking for hope. I felt distanced from God, like He had distanced himself from me. Every difficulty and struggle was amplified and almost overwhelming. I remember hearing a sermon. I was hopeful because the pastor was speaking about times that sadness and distance from God, but then I was disappointed because He said it’s almost always a result of our own sin. I had searched my heart. I had looked for sin that was causing this sadness and separation, but I couldn’t see it so I became even more hopeless. When I confessed my depression to a “friend”, instead of sympathy, encouragement, or advice, I received anger and a harsh rebuke. “Stop it! Just stop it!” I became even more frustrated. If I had the ability to lift myself out of that, then I wouldn’t have been hopeless. Long story short, God did eventually me out of that pit. And you know what I realized... the pastor was right. It was my own sin that separated me from God. It was the burden of my own sin that robbed my hope, my strength, my joy. I’ll come back to this story in just a moment.
Verse 8. We see a complete switch here. From ultimate hopelessness and brokenness at God’s feet David shifts to addressing his enemies with confidence and strength. God hears his plea and the enemies will be the ones who are troubled and terrified.. What happened? Did God heal David and fix everything in a moment? Yes and no. What changed in that moment. David remembered who God was. He reminded himself of the truth of God is, despite his current emotions and circumstances and the ultimate hope that is in God alone. When God lifted me out of my hopelessness, I was walking down a hallway and I ended up in a conversation with another friend of mine. A true friend for whom I have the utmost respect. He didn’t reveal an unknown secret to me. He didn’t say anything incredibly, clever or witty or insightful. He just spoke the simple truth. He pointed out the need to fully surrender to the Lord and not try to save myself. He helped me apply the gospel to my life in a way that I had been resisting. The circumstances of my life didn’t change for some time, but what changed in a moment was the hope in my confession and surrender. When we surrender our life to Christ, or another area of life, it takes time to be sanctified and disciplined, but He saves in a moment. Hope can come in a moment. It doesn’t always, but it can.
That’s why it’s so important that we always look to the Lord for our strength. Read His word each day with a heart that is ready to listen and follow rather than mark something off our to do list. Pursue meaningful conversations with other believers by being honest and vulnerable. Preach the Gospel to yourself every day. Remind yourself exactly what the Lord has done for you. Explicitly remind yourself where your hope and strength lies even in times when things seem to be going well. And when we find ourselves in David’s shoes, where the weight of guilt and despair are more than we can bear; we must remind ourselves. The weight of our sin should be overwhelming. We cannot conquer it, but we serve the one and only who can; who did conquer the grave. He did it so we would have hope and strength to escape the enslavement and punishment of our sin. The essence of the Gospel is love, justice, grace, and consequently hope. Hope for the next life certainly, but not only. We do have a real hope for this life here and now. Paul reminds us of this in Philippians 4:12-13 “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” David allowed his emotions to turn his heart and hope to the Lord. That’s exactly how we are to use the emotions God had given us. Don’t let your emotions rule you - running like a wild horse and causing destruction. Instead, let the truth of God’s word bring your emotions into control, leading to fulfillment and hope. Turn them to God for fulfillment, and hope.