For all who seek to walk with Jesus over the long haul, much time will be spent in what the Psalms calls “the depths.” Suffering is simply part of what it means to be human. Whether we ourselves are going through difficult times or we are walking with others through difficult times, we will find ourselves in “the depths,” in these unsettling times of pain or confusion or angst. The ways we respond to these times will determine much of the character of our lives.
“Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord!” the psalmist writes and thereby invites us to share the whole of our life with God. For if there is anything that resounds from a careful reading of the Psalms it is that there is absolutely no part of our experience that is out of bounds with God. The Psalms teach us and invite us to live everything before God.
Pastor Eugene Peterson reflections upon Psalm 130 capture our great need as individuals or as communities when we encounter these seasons in “the depths.” Allow Psalm 130 and these Peterson’s reflections to intersect with your own experience: What do they evoke or stir in your mind & heart?
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O LORD, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
My soul waits for the LORD
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
Eugene Peterson writes,
When we suffer we attract counselors as money attracts thieves. Everybody has an idea of what we did wrong to get ourselves into such trouble and a prescription for what we can do to get out of it. We are flooded first with sympathy and then with advice, and when we don’t come around quickly we are abandoned as a hopeless case. But none of that is what we need. We need hope. We need to know that we are in relation to God. We need to know that suffering is part of what it means to be human and not something alien. We need to know where we are and where God is. We need an eye specialist rather, than, say, a painter. A painter tries to convey to us with the aid of his brush and palette a picture of the world as he sees it; an ophthalmologist tries to enable us to see the world as it really is.
There is a passage in George MacDonald’s novel The Princess and Curdie that tells us that when Curdie reaches the castle, he sees the great staircase and he knows that to reach the tower he must go further. The narrator takes the occasion to say that “those who work well in the depths more easily understand the heights, for indeed in their true nature they are one and the same.”
For the person who suffers, has suffered, or will suffer Psalm 130 is essential equipment, for it convinces us that the big difference is not in what people suffer, but in the way they suffer. (“The same shaking that makes fetid water stink, makes perfume issue a more pleasant odor.”) The psalm does not exhort us to put up with suffering; it does not explain it or explain it away. It is, rather, a powerful demonstration that our place in the depths is not out of bounds from God. We see that whatever or whoever got us in trouble cannot separate us from God, for “there is forgiveness with thee.” We are persuaded that God’s way with us is redemption and that the redemption, not the suffering, is ultimate.
The depths have a bottom; the heights are boundless. Knowing that, we are helped to go ahead and learn the skills of waiting and hoping by which God is given room to work out our salvation and develop our faith while we fix our attention on his ways of grace and resurrection.
Questions for Conversation:
• What do you find yourself saying to yourself or wondering as you listen to these words?
• How do Peterson’s words intersect with or speak to your own experience today?
• George MacDonald writes, “those who work well in the depths more easily understand the heights, for indeed in their true nature they are one and the same.” How do you make sense of this statement? How have you seen this to be true in your life or in the life of someone you have observed “in the depths”?
• Any thoughts or wonderings emerging from your heart? Convert those thoughts into a written prayer.
Topic: “Walking with God and Others through Pain and Suffering”
October 24-26, 2014
 Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, (IVP, 1980), 140-141.