He climbs with bare feet over mounds of accumulated filth and jagged-edged debris in hopes of finding a scrap of food to eat and to share with his family. Who cares?
A young wife is secluded by the men who surround her–husband, brothers, father, neighbors. She may be covered by a full-body garment, or she may be smothered in a shroud of tradition. Who will look beyond the veil to see her heart?
He gets up faithfully every day and goes to work at a chronically stressful job to feed and clothe a growing family. He is a cog in the corporation structure, easily crossed off the “org chart” by strangers he’s never met. He wonders if anything he does ever matters in the big scheme of life.
We walk in this world keenly aware that our steps press only on shifting sands of time. Like Ozymandius, some may even gain heights of fame and achievement–only to be forgotten in the next generations, bywords in this world. Some never had name or marker for their lives on earth, as if they never were. On a merely horizontal plane, we all feel and hourly acknowledge our relative insignificance.
Our ordinariness is generally taken for granted–until we suffer. Then, we want to know that someone is aware of us. Someone who is powerful enough to deliver, compassionate enough to be a companion, and sovereign enough to give our lives and our suffering meaning.
Even for those to whom honor has come, debasement comes in the form of public criticism, loneliness, misunderstanding, sacrifice, heavy loss, and even death. The call of Christian discipleship, especially, has always included the call to die to self and embrace sacrifice and hardship. Following the Lord means we, like Him, will be “hunted and ensnared” by the powers of this world, unvalued by world-seekers.
So why do I still buckle inside when I am misunderstood? ignored? rejected? When I sacrifice and it is passed over? When I’m exhausted and no one relieves me. When I try hard and am criticized for my effort (or ignored)? When I hurt and no one cares? Or, taken literally or figuratively, when I’m hungry and no one feeds me, or thirsty and no one gives me to drink? When I’m naked and vulnerable and no one protects me but uses me instead?
It seems to me that the shock of these violations proves, rather than disproves, my significance. Something has gone wrong and my value has been trashed. There must be a way back; a redemption. How do I grasp this at the right handle?
In Tzade (v. 137-144), the psalmist, a righteous believer, is suffering instead of succeeding–more so than many of us will ever experience. Yet he begins and ends with dignity. He is humbled and poised, not bitter and lost. What does he know that I don’t?
First, I note that he addresses his voice to his God who is there and is listening.* What is our natural inclination when we are violated, wounded, ridiculed or neglected? Our natural inclination is self-protection which fails to look upward; so we cry out in various ineffective, horizontal ways: e.g.,
- manipulation of others,
- expression of pain,
- dependence on others,
- work or physical over-activity,
- addictions (including food),
- achievement (see addictions)
- denial and altered realities,
- exclusive reliance on professionals in their respective fields (e.g., political, psychiatric, medical, educational),
The key to this psalmist’s peace of soul and sanity of mind is who he addresses with his pain. He believes God is real and present, Sovereign over the affairs of this world and all that is in it, including the suffering he is experiencing. As Sovereign, God has purpose and meaning in our suffering (see Further Resources below), and as a loving Sovereign, God does not will that any suffering should destroy us or last forever (Lamentations 3;31-33). Therefore, the psalmist turns his voice to make appeal to the only One who can answer and will act on his behalf (Philippians 4:6-7).
Second, he considers that the greatest suffering is not his own. When I suffer, all I can feel is my own pain and inconvenience. I remember the slights and the injustice. I recount the reasons why I should not suffer and why others should. I drag others down in my negativity. It’s all about me and my own significance. But this psalmist remembers that God’s suffering is most crucial. Of the two, who is most significant: the created, or the Creator?
Let us understand this from the Word of God: God cares about our suffering. God is said to “save our tears” (Psalm 56:8). This means God sees, He hears, He remembers our suffering (Exodus 3:7). Jesus wept over human suffering (John 11:33-35, Luke 19:41-44). But more than that, God is always Sovereign over human suffering. Only he can do something about it! And He has. Through His Son Jesus, he has reconciled us to himself so that one day, all tears shall be wiped away from our eyes, and there will be a place of eternal joy where there is no death nor sorrow nor pain nor any tears (Rev. 21:3-5). His banner, his “sign” over my being, is the sacrificial love of Christ; this is our significance!
Alleviating suffering, not causing it, is the heart of God. God cares! Each of us is significant in God’s eyes! God sees the boy on the trash heap, the woman languishing in her courtyard rooms, the corporate employee lost in the maze of human gears, the child with cancer, the pastor struggling with purity. All, not just some!
But the psalmist’s real passion, the burning flame in his heart, was righteous indignation against the injustice of God’s broken law. When I am wronged, do I care that God is being wronged?
Third, the psalmist also cares about the welfare of his enemies. While his zeal is against them for the wickedness of their treason against God, the psalmist is also horrified to consider the end that his enemies are facing as their inevitable punishment. We can see this in the neighboring octrains within Psalm 119.
It really ought to grieve and horrify me to see lost souls rushing to eternal spiritual and physical destruction. When I’m hurt, I am pre-occupied with self. Even though I know intellectually that spiritual suffering lies at root of the evil around me, I am too angry, too bitter, and too self-righteous to care about the guilty parties and their eternal damnation (or chastisement, if they are believers)! But when I raise my prayer to God, away from self-focus, and consider the situation from God’s eternal perspective, my own pain and suffering dissipates in proportion with what matters most. Justice, yes; deliverance, yes!; but also righteous mercy for my fellow man and enemy (Psalm 85;10).
I am not the only person significant in God’s eyes! Amazingly, when I allow God to be first in my mind and heart, I am invited to care about the significance of others above myself. I am re-energized with God’s moral and civil justice and not my own, and to pray for the spiritual salvation of my enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). I am invited to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15). (See Further Resources below.)
Finally, the psalmist’s faith is his anchor. His significance has found its resting place. My significance, my worth in this life and to God, is not a cloak to wear and possibly lose. It is a calling, a duty and a privilege to enact. We can face God in all honesty of heart, pour out our grieving hearts in safety. But when suffering makes us unable to pray, unable to feel, unable to even move, take up and read God’s Word. Let the truth of the knowledge of God and his character re-align your perspective (Lamentations 3:19-24).
Two aspects of God’s Word are important: his promises and his commands. God has responded to us through the work of Christ Jesus on the cross to give us the hope and promise of salvation. But we must respond. We must believe on His promises about coming justice and coming mercy, waiting and watching patiently for the daily unfolding of these in our lives. We must also obey the commands of God to “go and do likewise” as Christ’s disciples on earth, loving our fellow man and ensuring justice for others. God has given us His aid even in this (Isaiah 40:28-31; Ephesians 2:8-9).
The psalmist ends with his final appeal–not to get out of his situation or alleviate his suffering, but to have the power to hold to and stand on the promises of God in His Word, and to obey what it says (Hebrews 2:17 -18). This is his poise, his rest.
Father, again and again I have seen in your word examples of the kind of faith that you desire in me. I am not currently under such grief and injustice that I cannot see the light of day, but I know many who are, and I will be as I continue to serve you in all faith. Help me to understand my significance before you alone, and to forget all regard for my reputation in this world. Help me, moreover, to see and build up the significance of the glorious beings that surround me every day who do not look so glorious in my physical eyes, but are so precious to your heart. Prick my heart, Lord, for your own fame and honor, for righteousness, justice, and mercy, and for the eternity of each soul in my care and in my concentric circles of concern. Make my heart like your own. Cleave my tongue to the roof of my mouth unless you open it with your wisdom. Corral my impulses in obedience to your commands. Deliver the “forgotten ones” of this world out of their despair, both spiritual and physical, that they may praise you and bless Your Name. I rest my faith in Your Word with calm repose. In the Name of Jesus Christ, so let it be.
© 2018 by http://www.readpsalm119.com. Revised Oct. 9, 2018.
“Christ’s Grace and Your Sufferings” (Video/Audio/Transcript) by David Powlison (ccef.org), October 8, 2005, Desiring God 2005 National Conference
“If I fail to forgive others,…” (Podcast/Transcript) by John Piper, Episode 669, August 24, 2015, at desiringGod.com
Pray for Pastor Andrew Brunson is currently (as of this blog date) grievously imprisoned by an unjust government, charged falsely with being a spy. Pray Ps119 for and with him.