“We Can Trust God with our Tears”
This was the application that Pete Scamman (Christ Church Fulwood, Sheffield) gave to a talk on Psalm 126 on Sunday 31st January 2020.
For anyone who has been through extreme suffering, physical or emotional, anyone who has found themselves in the depths of depression and despair, for anyone who has experienced false accusation or bullying and abuse the re-assurance that we can trust God with our tears is wonderful.
I want to suggest that many of the Psalms reiterate this point, especially those that are laments or cries for justice. The Psalmist cries out from his bed (probably literally) or from the pit (ometimes but not necessarily always metaphorically). He pours out his heart, he describes his experience from his perspective, he is brutally honest but also he keeps on trusting in God. Often the Psalms follow a pattern.
- The singer cries out to God telling him of their trouble. Sometimes this includes a sense of abandonment. Is even God absent? Has even God turned his face away?
- He appeals to God for rescue, vindication and justice. This may include a statement that the Psalmist himself is “righteous” and therefore his experience unjust.
- He will declare his hope in God. He will affirm that God is present, just, good and strong.
At times, the rawness of the words will make us feel uncomfortable. How can the Psalmist claim that he is righteous? How can he claim that the faithful, omnipresent God has abandoned him and turned his face? And yet, these are the very things he chooses to say.
I want to suggest that the reason that the Psalmist can say these things and the reason that we can sing them with him is found in the first Psalm.
Blessed is the man[a]
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law[b] of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
The Happy Man
The first Psalm opens up the aim of the whole book. These are songs for the blessed, happy, contented or righteous man. Of course, for the sake of inclusiveness, we should emphasise that is for all blessed people, men and women alike but before we say that, we emphasise the happy man because we need to start by applying the Psalms to and through Christ. These songs were written to be sung by him and as he sat in the Synagogue or walked with family and later disciples among the pilgrims to Jerusalem, they would be found on his lips.
Jesus is the one who was truly happy and contented because he was and is the righteous one. Jesus is the one who obeyed his father perfectly refusing to be dragged into the conspiracies, lies and wicked actions of sinful men.
Jesus is the who is like a deep rooted, fruitful tree. We find shade, comfort and refreshment in him. Note the contrast between him and the fruitless, cursed and withered fig tree that presented stubborn and faithless Israel.
The Lord (in this context, The Father, knows the righteous. This is not just that The Father knows about Jesus, rather, it is to say that he has the Father’s love and approval.
Christ applied to us
It is in Christ, that all the goodness of the Psalm is applied to you and me. If New Testament passages like Ephesians 1 talk about us receiving an inheritance in Christ, then this is the inheritance.
First of all, we have the promise of righteous not our own. In other words, Christ’s righteousness is imputed or credited to us. When Paul talks about this, we see a bit of accounting imagery. First of all, he says that it is as though he has had another look at the accounts and realised he made a mistake, the numbers have been entered in the wrong column so that:
“what I once thought gain, I now count as loss.”
He realises that all the things he though were earning him favour with God from national identity to religious fervour were in fact powerless. This truth has dawned on him in the light of the relationship he has with Christ. He has discovered that it is based on grace, on underserved favour.
At the same time, he looks and sees that a bank transfer has been made. Christ has credited his account with his righteousness so that it is no longer in the black. This is what justification is all about. It is “just as if I had always kept God’s law perfectly.” God looks on me as an obedient son.
How is this possible. Well, there is first of all the idea that Christ’s obedience in life and unto death was on my behalf, he is my representative and my substitute. He died in my place so that the penalty for my sin is taken and instead God treats Christ’s obedience as mine. This is not some mere legal fiction at a distance. Rather, we the church are described as the bride of Christ. We are united with him in his death and resurrection so that all that is his now belongs to me and all that is mine now belongs to him. He takes the filthy rags of my sin and my failed religion from me and replaces them with grace and mercy.
The blessings of the happy person
If, this is so, we can then see all of the good things in Psalm 1 as belonging to you and me. We may not feel “blessed” or “happy” in fact we might feel deeply miserable in our suffering but the Psalm describes us as blessed and happy in Christ.
This happiness comes because we are now declared righteous so that our relationship with God is good, we are right with him. The source of all goodness. This then is what it means to find the source of all goodness. Just as a tree puts down its roots by water, so we are told to be rooted in Christ, to discover the refreshing goodness that comes through the Holy Spirit.
Applying this to me
Where are you at? It may well be that in your own feelings, the claims of this Psalm seem so far away from your experience. You identify much more with the Psalmist in his later laments. It seems that God is distant and you are abandoned. In future studies, we will pick up on those experiences and discover how David and the other song writers handle them.
In the meantime, the first stage is to reflect on truths that you cannot feel in the darkness and remind yourself of them. In my own dark moments when I’ve felt overwhelmed with sadness, anxiety, fear, guilt and anger, I’ve found it helpful at times to pick up the Psalm and re-read it, even memorising it. Why not do it now.
Why not re-read it again, this time replacing “The man” and words like “who” and “his” with your name.
Blessed is Sally.
Sally does not walk in the paths…
Sally is like a tree planted …
Then why not finish by praying the Psalm. Take time to thank God for each promise you find. Ask him to reassure you of its truth. Ask him to keep him faithful to you and to take away any longing to belong with those who are wicked.
Whether or not at this stage you feel blessed or happy. The Bible is clear that the promises of the Psalm are true for you and me if we are in Christ.