Psalm 38 1 Rebuke me not in anger, Lord: restrain your wrath, I pray; grant that your child be yet restored, not judged and cast away. I feel your arrows deep within, I sink beneath your hand and underneath a weight of sin too great for me to stand.
2 For sinful folly now I pay: I’m humbled to the ground, as I go mourning all the day and no relief is found. I feel my body racked with pain, diseased in every part, so crushed that I cannot contain the groanings of my heart.
3 My longings, Lord, to you are known, you see my every tear; my strength, my sight are almost gone, my friends will not come near. And others lay their deadly snares, all day they plot and lie; like one who neither speaks nor hears, I offer no reply.
4 In you, O Lord, my hope I place: Lord, answer when I call; let those not jeer at my distress, who long to see me fall. My foothold is about to go, my torment will not cease; and my iniquity I know: my sin permits no peace.
5 My foes are many and are strong, their hatred has no cause; my kindness they repay with wrong, although I keep your laws. O Lord, be with me to the last, remain for ever near; come to my rescue, come with haste: O Lord, my Saviour, hear!
Reflection The writer is recalling a time that they felt completely isolated, both from God and from other people. There is no assurance of, or thanksgiving for, healing. It doesn’t seem to fit in with a religious ceremony. It is a lament, a Psalm with an “alphabetic” structure (has the same number of verses as the number of letters in the alphabet) and was probably used for personal devotion.
Whilst I can understand the feelings that gave rise to the words, I cannot take them literally:
Holy God, I beg for mercy. I feel completely alone. I try to centre myself on you and all I sense is absence, and that leaves my heart and spirit broken. Feeling separated from you is like an arrow in my side, my strength has gone, and dark clouds fill my horizon.
Why? What have I done for this to be my fate? Reveal to me what I should do! Help me!
My circle of family, friends and neighbours, all those closest to me, step back lest they fall into the pit I am in. They fear saying the wrong thing, making matters worse, or risking the balance of their own fragile lives.
I imagine all kinds of traps being set for me as I sink deeper. I can hear no consolation. I can speak no words of kindness. O God I need your presence, and to hear your Word.
Why would anyone relish my discomfort? I feel the abyss before me. My sorrow is overwhelming. I believe I am worthless. Forgive me!
I think that everyone is against me. I see anger and hostility all around me. I try my best, but no-one considers me worth their effort.
Holy God, have mercy. Draw close to me. Hurry to my side. Save me, O God.
Prayer Thank God for the NHS! Thank God for our forebears and peers who by trial and error, theory and experiment, modelling and recommendation, revealed, explored, and affected our health, well-being, and lives. Even though they at times faced ridicule, persecution or were overlooked, they continued in their endeavours trusting that Creation was comprehendible, consistent, and creative. Thank God for the invitation to be co-creators, custodians, and observers of Creation. Amen.
Rev’d David Coaker serves with Grays URC in Essex.