“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” (Psalm 130:1-2)
That prayer of desperation begins a song sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem’s temple. Psalm 130 is a remarkable prayer, one easily prayed or sung by either an individual, a congregation, or a nation. Some prayers that cry out with desperation are based in a sense of abandonment, an awareness that God does not seem to be listening that is accompanied by fear because the psalmist does not understand why God does not hear.
This psalm confesses the sins of God’s people and acknowledges that if God were to hold transgressors fully accountable, no one would have hope of forgiveness. Some depict the God of the first testament as an angry judge, but this prayerful psalm addresses a deity of grace and love who redeems his people:
“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared…O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130:3-4, 7-8).
God’s capacity for love and forgiveness can overwhelm. When we expect rejection and judgment, acquittal moves us to tears of joy and even denial. Like the prodigal son of Jesus’s parable, the spiritual rebel may expect to be treated like a second-class citizen or a slave. This prayer anticipates the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham that through him all nations would be blessed and remembers the revelation of God’s character to Moses that God is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”(Exodus 34:6). God’s amazing grace provokes reverential fear, for we cannot fully understand it.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope: my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning” (Psalm 130:5-6).
The prayer of this psalm confesses God’s love and trusts that God will keep the promises that he has made to his people through his word. The gospel proclaims that God hears our cries for rescue and that he has acted in love through Jesus to save. This prayer anticipates that act of love. We still cry out of the depths to the Lord, whether from fear of drowning when overwhelmed by life, or from confession of the darkness of our rebellion. John Donne, English preacher and poet, in his own masterful poem of prayer, “A Hymn to God the Father,” concludes by confessing, like Psalm 130, both fear and hope in the presence of sin:
I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore;
And having done that, Thou has done;
I fear no more.
God hears. Let us trust and obey.
• Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version
O Lord, in darkness and shadows where we have walked in rebellion, your light blinded us with its brilliance. We shrink sometimes still, hesitating to believe your pursuing love and willingness to renew what we consider unrepairable. The Law, the prophets, the gospels, and the apostles reveal you to us, a judge who loves and forgives. We pray, and wait in fear and reverence. We worship you and pray in the name of your Son and our Savior, Jesus, amen.
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