Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Psalmists' Prayers and Disciples' Confessions

My morning all its honesty and messiness.
January 18, 2017 (Confession of St. Peter)

From Psalm 38:

3 There is no health in my flesh,
because of your indignation; *
there is no soundness in my body, because of my sin.

It’s hard to read Psalm 38 when you’re really sick. I read this Psalm and others like it a lot differently than I used to, because I now relate to phrases like “there is no health in my flesh.” I know that sometimes someone can be sick because of their sin (I am thinking here of behavior that someone might participate in that can lead directly to sickness, or over a long period of time, or something someone does that leads them into a dangerous situation in which they are injured or left vulnerable to sickness) but I also sometimes wonder if the psalmist is making an incorrect assumption here that sin is the reason behind why he is ill. 

I say that, not to tiptoe gingerly around the Scriptures, but for a couple of reasons. One is that we have other Scriptures in the New Testament that would seem to indicate that Jesus himself did not believe that sin leads to sickness was the only conclusion we should jump to. Remember the disciples asking him “who sinned, this man or his parents?” when they were confronted with the blind man? And Jesus told them that that was simply not the reason the man was born blind (I realize that’s a birth defect and not an “illness” per se, but I think the theological reasoning holds). The man was born blind in order that his healing could bring God glory. 

So I find myself wondering if the psalmist is not jumping to a bumbling, false-guilt sort of assumption, the way the disciples were prone to do. One reason I love God’s word so much is that there are parts in it that I think are there, not just to show us Jesus, but to give us a peek into how we goof it up sometimes. There are other moments in the Psalms, for instance, when the one praying is talking about wreaking vengeance (which we know belongs only to God) and wanting to bash people’s heads in and banish the name of his enemy off the face of the planet, etc., which we know are not Godly choices. But I think the Lord lets them stand in the prayer book contained within his word because they are authentic, human feelings and emotions that need to be prayed through sometimes and placed at his feet. And the Psalms give us that model. Not everything in the Psalms, that is, is necessarily God’s perspective on a situation. They are honest cries that come from the lips of those who suffer or who are angry. Those praying the words can’t always see the forest for the trees. They feel trapped and caught and frustrated. They bring all this to God and he transforms it…something, by the way, that we see even here in Psalm 38, when the Psalmist is so sure that he is sick by reason of his own foolishness and sin…

4 For my iniquities overwhelm me; *
like a heavy burden they are too much for me to bear.

5 My wounds stink and fester *
by reason of my foolishness.
14 I have become like one who does not hear *
and from whose mouth comes no defense.

15 For in you, O Lord, have I fixed my hope; *
you will answer me, O Lord my God.
17 Truly, I am on the verge of falling, *
and my pain is always with me.

18 I will confess my iniquity *
and be sorry for my sin.

I love the way this Psalm turns because we see that even in the midst of his guilt – and perhaps, as I said, he is praying honestly, and somehow does know that his pain is directly connected to his iniquity – the psalmist turns to God. He fixes his hope in God. He trusts him. He tells him exactly how he is feeling and what he is worried about. And he confesses his sin, trusting in the Lord’s forgiveness.

I confess I do struggle sometimes, even knowing that my doctors have told me that there is no evidence that anything I did brought on this cancer (I never smoked, for instance) – that it is, in fact, a rare and strange series of mutations – I still struggle. I think that perhaps it was stuff I ate over a long period of time, or not taking my health seriously enough or exercising the way I should. But most of the time, I find myself more in the place of the blind man I talked about above. I wonder if God did not allow this sickness to happen (I do not believe he purposefully gave it to me, but I do sense he allowed it) in order to bring him glory. In order to do something in my life that otherwise he couldn’t have done, to bring me into deeper intimacy with him, and to let me walk the road of suffering in ways that help others and bring them into deeper intimacy with Jesus too.
Lots of wrestling here, with just a few verses this morning, but there is a lot going on in my heart and mind. 

And I do feel grateful for the honest prayers of the Psalmist and the bumbling, stumbling, sometimes rather dense disciples and their place in God’s story, which helps me to find mine.

And speaking of stumbling disciples…how I love that today we celebrate Peter’s confession! It is a wonderful confession from a man who dearly loved Jesus and who was prone to blurt out the first thing that came into his heart and mind. Sometimes that means he really goofed it up. But sometimes…oh sometimes! He just hit it out of the park. I have a feeling Peter made Jesus smile (and occasionally inwardly groan as well as outwardly rebuke!) and this must have been one of those joy filled moments for our Lord, when he saw that Peter truly GOT IT. Peter understood, deep down, who Jesus was. Which means he was on the path to true life and peace, rooted in reality and ready to become a vessel for Jesus’ love to pour into and spill out over the world. What a wonderful place to be and stand. This reminds me too of Martha’s confession, another wonderful one we hear in the gospels. Neither Peter nor Martha got everything right, as the stories about them show us. But when it came down to the most important thing, they certainly did. They looked into Jesus’ eyes and they saw their Lord, their Savior, the Son of God, the resurrection and the life, the perfect imprint of the Father. Oh Lord, give us eyes like their eyes, I pray. Amen.

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