Psalm 38 - Do not rebuke me in your anger

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A Psalm of David, for the memorial offering.
1) O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
2) For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.

3) There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
4) For my iniquities have gone over my head;
they weigh like a burden too heavy for me.
5) My wounds grow foul and fester
because of my foolishness;
6) I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all day long I go around mourning.
7) For my loins are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.
8) I am utterly spent and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

9) O Lord, all my longing is known to you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10) My heart throbs, my strength fails me;
as for the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11) My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction,
and my neighbors stand far off.
12) Those who seek my life lay their snares;
those who seek to hurt me speak of ruin,
and meditate treachery all day long.
13) But I am like the deaf, I do not hear;
like the mute, who cannot speak.
14) Truly, I am like one who does not hear,
and in whose mouth is no retort.

15) But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16) For I pray, “Only do not let them rejoice over me,
those who boast against me when my foot slips.
17) For I am ready to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.
18)I confess my iniquity;
I am sorry for my sin.
19) Those who are my foes without cause are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20) Those who render me evil for good
a re my adversaries because I follow after good.

21) Do not forsake me, O Lord;
O my God, do not be far from me;
22) make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation.

Psalm 38 (NRSV*)
Not included in the Revised Common Lectionary.

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath. For your arrows have sunk into me...

This is terrible. The voice in this psalm is suffering. Reminiscent of Job, he or she is "utterly bowed down." Everything has gone wrong. They are broken in body, mind, spirit, and social position. Read the words: my wounds grow foul and festering, my strength fails, my sin is too heavy a burden, I cannot even fight back. The light has left my eyes.

We are hearing from someone who is very low indeed, presenting themselves as defeated, spent, deeply depressed, and close to death.

We should not take these words as exaggerated hyperbole. We are better off taking people's reports of pain as true. They are certainly true as a description of their experience. This person is suffering.

If I was reading this aloud, I would pause here to sit with a little bit of this agony, to stay with it and not run from it. The prayer comes from a place of pain, and deserves the respect of hearing that fact.

As God has done. "O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you."

That, by itself is extraordinary. That God - or anyone - listens to the broken-hearted. Do I hear the soft whisper of grace?

There is something else quite unusual. These days, and even in the Bible, it is rare to hear someone simply ask for mercy. No excuses about how they are suffering undeserved torments, no claims that they are innocent victims. No calls to crush their enemies. Just a naked plea to please relent. I am suffering.

It could be that they are so low they have no time or energy to waste on anything but the most critical thing.

But there it is. My sins are too heavy a burden. Forget my adversaries. Forget my faithless friends. This is on me. I cannot bear what I have done, and who I have become.

This too, is grace. Theologically, the ability to confess sin is itself a gift from God, the working of grace. Pastorally and personally, it is holy, and we can experience it as the mysterium tremendens of God's presence, shaking the foundations of sin. The earth trembles, and heaven rejoices, when falsehood and wrong-doing can be confronted, by the wrong-doer.

This psalm is not written in Hollywood. The problem of this sin and the suffering of this penitent is not resolved by verse 22. Yet the prayer itself cracks open the door for God's saving action to be known. "Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, do not be far from me; make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation."

Unattributed, Untitled. Public domain (CC BY 1.0).
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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