Psalm 69: Dealing with Dark Days

 April 23, 2019

We just celebrated Holy Week and are now in the season of Easter, a time for celebration and new life. Yet not everyone is rejoicing. The sun may be shining, flowers blooming, but those dealing with depression find little reason for celebrating. They are stuck in somber Saturday, alone with Jesus in the tomb. Psalm 69 is for anyone dealing with such depression.

Psalm 69

The writer of Psalm 69 is down and discouraged. “I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.” (2) Not only is he drowning, he is weak from crying. “I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eye grow dim with waiting for my God.” (3) Numerous enemies are attacking him. “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause, mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies.” (4a)

There is no justice. He is being unjustly accused of stealing and is being forced to pay back that which he didn’t steal, “What I did not steal must I now restore?” (4b)

But what is worse is he is being attacked for doing God’s work, “For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face . . . For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (7,9)

He admits to his sins. “O God, you know my folly, the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.” (5) When he performs acts of penitence, his enemies jeer at him, “When I humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach, when I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.” (10-11)

Sunk in a Pit

He is wasting away and close to being swept away into the nether world, “Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me.” (15) Depression can feel like you are sinking in a quagmire or pit with no possibility of climbing out.

One commentator describes him as a reformer who is weary from years of labor with little real change. Not only that, he is punished for his efforts, “Because the reformer is a lonely man, even when surrounded by his followers, he is the easy victim of frustration and spiritual fatigue. He will start out consumed by zeal for the house, the market, the home, the church, and he may end with a poignant cry for rescue from the deep waters.” (Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IV, p. 368)

Or perhaps the writer is a prophet. Their enemies often ridiculed and punished the prophets for speaking God’s word. Whatever the reason for his suffering, he is in good company. When the psalmist is thirsty, his enemies gave him vinegar to drink, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” (21) While Jesus hung on the cross, soldiers gave him vinegar. (Mt 27:48, Mk 15:36) Jesus knows what it is to suffer.

Suffering an Unavoidable Part of Life

Sometimes Christians have this notion that if they follow God’s commands, they will be blessed and escape suffering. They will be blessed, but suffering is not an avoidable part of life. When the doctor gave a woman whose blog I follow the diagnosis of a brain tumor, she wrote:

“I call this “Umbrella Theology”: our often unspoken belief that the crappy stuff in life should happen to other people and not us. Well, the storms of life have collapsed my umbrella theology, and I’ve been blessed to receive Special Education in Suffering through my experiences with illness, loss of loved ones, and other painful STUFF THAT IS NOT FUN. But I’m not anyone special. You’ve experienced these things too, and if you haven’t yet, you will.”

(To read whole post, click here.)

That we will suffer is inescapable but how we deal with that suffering is up to us.

In verses 22-28 of Psalm 69, the psalmist in anger prays for vengeance against those who did him wrong, “Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them. May their camp be a desolation, let no one dwell in their tents.” (24-25) He asks that they be wiped out of the divine registry, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.” (28)

How to Deal with Anger over Suffering

But Psalm 69 doesn’t end there. It ends with a hymn of praise and confident trust in our God, “Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.” (32-33)

The writer makes his case to his God, releases his anger through asking for vengeance, then falls back on his trust in the Lord. A helpful prescription for dealing with depression. (Please note:  I am not talking about clinical depression which requires professional help.)

In this life, there will be suffering, there will be hard times. Faith doesn’t exempt us from the trials that are part of human existence, but it does help us get through these times when we feel we are drowning. This too will pass, good days will return. With faith, we can get through the down times in our life.

How do you handle your dark days?

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This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and receive a free copy of  Still Dancingthe second book in my Dancing through Life Series.      click here to sign up

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