A Reflection on the Psalms

Read through Psalm 6
“How long, LORD, how long?” These are the most relatable words for one who is deeply anguished. I think if you were to use any sentence to summarize what lament psalms are, this sentence would do the trick. When you are in the thick of despair, crisis, anxiety, and fear you can’t help but cry out these words: “How long, LORD, how long?” Verse 3 can be the theme of this psalm: “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, LORD, how long?”
Psalm 6 gives us a full experience of anguish. The psalmist expresses pain and turmoil both internally (v.2) and externally (v.7). This psalm encompasses the stress of a whole person. We experience trouble like this in our own lives: we have plenty of external trouble (attacks from others), but we also have internal trouble (attacks from within – illness, temptations, lies). The psalmist invokes God to restrain His “rebukes” and “disciplines” of “anger” and “wrath” while he is in turmoil (v.1). He then proceeds to anguish about his internal trouble – illness. The psalmist is completely vulnerable with us and reveals that he is “faint” and that his “bones are in agony” (v.2). This was a common way to express illness in the ancient world because one’s bones were often viewed as the seat of one’s physical strength and health. But this physical illness has also affected the psalmist psychologically because his “soul is in deep anguish” (v.3). Usually physical ailments and the broken psychological state of a person are interdependent. The key phrase in verse 3, “How long, LORD, how long?” indicates that the psalmist has been experiencing these internal troubles for a long period of time. When we experience this internal distress it could feel like an eternity. We convince ourselves – especially those struggling with chronic pain and distress – that it will never leave us, it’ll never end. That’s what our psalmist felt and believed. That’s what pushed him to cry out these words to God.
The psalmist describes, in brutal detail, the anguish that these internal troubles have inflicted on him (vv.5-6). The pain is so long and unbearable that he feels that he is going to die (v.5). He has drenched his bed and his couch in tears from this bitter anguish (v.6). And not only is the psalmist dealing with internal trouble, but he reveals that he is also dealing with external troubles (v.7). His eyes hurt from crying so much (v.7), and he is tired from it all!
But praise the LORD there is always hope! In the depths of his despair and long-suffering, the psalmist turns to the LORD: “Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (v.4). Even in the thick of it, God’s attributes still come to the light – His “unfailing love.” And we see that the psalmist held on to this hope, and thus, the results of this steadfast patience. We see in verses 8b-9 that “the LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer.” The psalmist’s tears were not for nothing. His tired eyes can rest now that his prayer has been heard. In the LORD, the psalmist can confidently declare, and even experience, that “all my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish” (v.10). The enemies here can include both external ones (foes) and internal ones (illness). Just as the psalmist was overwhelmed (v.5-6) and in deep anguish (v.3), because of the LORD his enemies are now the ones who are “overwhelmed” (v.10a) and the ones who experience deep “anguish” (v.10b). The “How long, LORD, how long?” (v.3) fades away and transforms into “Turn, LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (v.4).

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