What words can ever express how many people feel about their tough experiences of 2021? If you live in Afghanistan, the feeling revolves around the takeover of the country by the Taliban knowing the terrible implications of that for everyone. If you live in the Philippines, it’s dealing with yet another devastating cyclone creating flooding and the destruction of lives and homes. And then it doesn’t matter where you live in the world, your emotions surely include the fears and uncertainty related to how to deal with the pandemic (and all its ramifications and disruptions), which shows no sign of disappearing anytime in the near future. Just maybe the words of the author of Psalm 102 may help you today. The title of this Psalm of Lament explains why. It is called: A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord.
As Longman suggests, it reveals the believers experience of “the dark realities of a hostile world… [as the author] uses figurative language to paint a vivid picture of the depth of his distress.” (# 30)
Consider the words of the poet. He begins by simple stating:
I am in distress. (v. 2)
And then comes the details of why:
3 For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
5 In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones…
8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse…
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
Among his other problems – “fever, frailty, wasting, pain, sleeplessness, melancholy, rejection and despair” (# 5) – is a notable emphasis in this poetic lament. It is on “the frightening realization of the transient nature of life.” (# 27) He says:
My days vanish like smoke (v. 5)
My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. (v. 11)
In the course of my life[God] broke my strength; he cut short my days.
So I said: “Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days. (vv. 23-24)
Have you ever sensed this uneasiness in your own short life? You are not alone if you have.
In August 2020 I wrote the following in my journal;
The following may be difficult to explain but it is a ‘feeling’ that has come upon me over the last 6 months or so (maybe longer).
It is firstly a sense of facing up to the fact that my body is aging and causing me some grief at times…
Secondly, the ‘feeling’ seems to be related to facing up to the fact of ‘mortality’ – my own and others around me. I think this has been brought on by the combination of both the Covid-19 pandemic and the death of family members and seeing a close friend dealing with what is basically a terminal disease… I think that more than ever before I have thought about the possibility of death – mine, and other loved ones. Sounds a bit morbid, but it is the reality of the world we live in.
So, am I depressed? No, but certainly more thoughtful and wondering what God would have for us at this time in our lives. Am I afraid of death? Again, no, but just more conscious that it seems to be a greater possibility (maybe due to the pandemic) than it has been before.
I guess the unpredictability of life is having an impact upon my thinking at this time, as it must be on so many people worldwide. Hopefully it will turn us all towards a new dependability upon the only one who has an answer to all this – i.e., the Lord.”
My response here reflects a similar positive response we see that the psalmist has in Psalm 102.
He, being “conscious of the transient nature of his own being, humbles himself under the eternal Being of God to whom as the Creator of heaven and earth belongs the power over life and death.” (# 27)
Consider his words:
12 But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations…
24 So I said… your years go on through all generations.
25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain…
27 But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”
This psalm includes this amazing “Hymnic praise of Yahweh’s permanence… and praise of Yahweh’s liberating compassion… and Yahweh’s mercy… God’s permanence transcends even that of his creation.” (# 4) We are transient in this world but He is the eternal compassionate One and so there is Hope. Hallelujah!
Let me finish with the words of a local pastor:
“Cultivate the habit of realistic optimism – “Genuine optimism is not afraid of the truth – it embraces it – but it is also able to rest in the truth found in Romans 8:28 that God does work all things for our good. Archibald Hart says that ‘once we appreciate life [and God] for what it [and He] really is, we discover a new thrill in being alive.’” (“Lessons from a worrier” by Rob Furlong, Australian Baptist Advocate, August 2020)
May that be your experience in these unpredictable days.