Do me a favor and please read Psalm 102.
Does it seem weird to say that I “love” the imagery we get from the psalmist? I don’t love the pain they are in but the descriptive words they give in this prayer to help us understand their plight, their pain, and their feelings are just so vivid! Days vanishing like smoke and a heart withered like grass in a desert. The loneliness they feel, the taunting of enemies, and even eating ashes because it’s the only food they have…I simply am drawn in to their pain and suffering. And I take joy in hearing them remember that in the midst all that is going on, knowing that God will hear them and restore them…their private prayer is simply lifted to God.
As for context, we simply don’t know who the author is or where they are. From the sounds of it they appear to be in exile and struggling with their lot. And while this begins as a very private prayer, between the lamenter and God as they speak of their own problems, it moves to a very PUBLIC prayer as they find hope in God’s restoration of his PEOPLE. So private in prayer…but corporate in restoration (see verses 13 thru 22 and verse 28 as they speak of “Zion” and “generations” as well as “stones” and “servants”).
The challenge we get from this psalm comes to us in the contrasts between the lament and the hope. It’s almost like we get a black and greyness in the lament and then a full-on bright and beautiful color in the hope. I picture the psalmist, as he is lamenting to God, his words and prayer come out in these very dark black/grey scale words and images. Nothing about his lot is bright and colorful. It’s depressing and sad. And yet in this dirge of lament God’s compassion, work, love, and “infinityness” skyrocket down from heaven and invade those dark grey and black words with beautiful reds, purples, greens, blues, and yellows. The words of lament don’t change, they are still painful and the psalmist is still in this place of pain, but the hope and the joy of God and his covenantal love overpower the finality of the sadness.
What’s tough about laments is that while our hope is in God and the peace he brings it doesn’t change the pain we are in. We are given the very hope we need but the hope is a future hope – and hope doesn’t change my current circumstance. “Hope” doesn’t put bread on the table, funds in my bank, and clothes on my back. Don’t get me wrong, if it weren’t for the love of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we would all be sunk! If it weren’t for God we would have no future. But let’s be honest and real for a second…until we see Christ descending from heaven and us ascending to join him as he comes to usher in his victory over sin and death our lives will still be tough. We may lose our house because we lost our job and can’t pay the mortgage. We may struggle to put food on the table day in and day out. If it weren’t for the kindness of strangers, the support of the church, and programs in our community that give clothing and food away – our children may go hungry! We still see anger and hatred and death in our own communities, state, country, and world and those aren’t going to end until Christ returns. These things still exist even though our hope is in the Lord and the fact that he has overcome these very things FOR us!
The psalmist declares that their heart is withered and they are lonely. They are in distress and taunted all around. There is no food for their belly and the only fluids they seem to be able to consume and even GET come to them from their own tears. These things are daily occurrences for them and they aren’t getting any better! And yet…their hope still remains – and it still remains in the midst of their pain.
What I truly appreciate about this psalm is that we are able to see hope in the midst of pain. We are able to understand that we cry out to God BECAUSE we know that his grace and love run to us and give us the very thing we need: hope. And I really like imagining sending up my needs and prayers to God and then envisioning his compassion, work, love, and “infinityness” shooting down and hitting my words – and not to change them, but to give them purpose, peace, and hope. A hope of eternity in God’s presence where the blacks and greys of life are no more.