The Christian life is not an easy one. I hope our church is never a place where we all pretend to be fine when we are not. Everyone in our church has significant areas of brokenness and difficulty. Of course, there are times of great joy in the life of faith, but there are also times when we feel overwhelmed, like we cannot go on. It is during such dark times that I am so thankful to the Lord for Psalms like Psalm 130. Here, we understand that most Christians go through such dark times; we are not alone. But it also provides us with first-hand experience about how we can find the light again, and that is so important.
In verse 1, the Psalmist is crying from ‘the depths’. He feels like a drowning man, plunging hopelessly into the ocean. Have you been there recently? Perhaps you have. If not, you probably will be before too long. It’s a miserable place, where we wonder if God will even hear our prayers. We feel hopeless. We feel as if there is no way out.
Why is the Psalmist in such a place of spiritual darkness? Is it because of the death of a loved one? Is it because of long-term sickness? No. We see from verse 3 that the Psalmist has begun to see the blackness of his own heart, and to see how offensive his thoughts and actions must be to God. We call this conviction of sin. And so the steep-sided pit which the writer is in is a pit of shame and guilt and sorrow. We aren’t told what the specific sins are. But I’m sure most of us can relate to this experience, when we realise how disgusting and shameful our thoughts and behaviours really are in God’s eyes. This is one of the seven penitential Psalms, where we find someone not just feeling sorrow for themselves because they have God into a moral mess in their lives, but more than that, they have deep sorrow because they know their indefensible behaviour is ugly in the sight of God, and deserves to be punished.
Again, please notice that this is the experience of a believer, a Christian. It reminds me of the words Jonah expresses, having rebelled against the clear instructions of God, and having been cast into the sea and swallowed by a great fish. He says: ‘The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.’ (Jonah 2:5-7.
What about our own lives? Could it be that we don’t go into ‘the depths’ as much as we ought to? That might sound controversial. But it might be that we’ve become so desensitised to the sin in our own hearts, and that we’ve lost sight of the holiness of God, whose eyes are too pure to behold iniquity, and so we are ignorant of our own sinfulness. Experiencing such spiritual sorrow can be a good thing, if it leads us to repentance and faith.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ (Matthew 5:4)
‘Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.’ (2 Corinthians 7:10)
We need to slow down in life, and give ourselves time alone with God, and think through the sins in our lives. Then we might taste something of this sorrow for sin.
When we go through the dark depths of conviction of sin, we need to follow the Psalmist’s example here, and confess our sin to God. I love the fact that in verse 2 he cries out to God for mercy. Please don’t overlook this – it’s very important. This cry for mercy informs us that he knows he does not deserve God’s forgiveness. He knows he cannot earn God’s forgiveness. All he can do is cast himself on the character and promises of God.
It has been said that ‘God is always the most offended party when we sin’ and that is true. Even if we lie to someone else, ultimately it is the law of God we are breaking: do not bear false testimony. Then in verse 3, we have the powerful image of God keeping a record of all our wrongdoings in a book. It would need to be a very thick book, with many pages. It would be a thick book for all of us here. The Psalmist acknowledges that if God gave us what we deserve, if he gave us strict justice, then we would be done for. We would have no hope: ‘If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?’ (Psalm 130:3)
Then we come to some of the most wonderful truths in all of the Bible: ‘But with you there is forgiveness’. (Psalm 130:4) This is what we celebrate as Christians. We must never take this truth for granted. Some people have a really casual attitude to their sin, and to forgiveness. They think: ‘Of course God will forgive me, that’s his job’. That’s what God does, isn’t it? Well, in a sense, but he only forgives those who earnestly turn from their sins, and throw themselves on the mercy of God, trusting in Jesus for their salvation. It took the death of Jesus on the cross to make the forgiveness of sins possible, so it is something we should never take lightly or trivialise.
“Free, full and sovereign pardon is in the hand of the great King. It is his right to give it, and he delights to exercise it.” (C H Spurgeon)
‘The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him…’ (Daniel 9:9)
How did the Psalmist know that there is forgiveness with God? I think the main teaching on it stemmed from the sacrifices offered at the temple. There was always the idea that through the shedding of blood, through the death of a substitute, there could be forgiveness. This underlined just how costly God’s forgiveness really is. At the end of the day, all sin must be paid for and accounted for.
We read in Leviticus: ‘He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been…’ (Leviticus 16:15)
If you have been in the depths, and you lay hold of God’s forgiveness, it is the sweetest experience. Martin Luther once had a dream where Satan brought a scroll full of Luther’s sins. Luther said: ‘Is that all you have’? And Satan then brought two more scrolls, full of Luther’s sins. Luther said to Satan: ‘Write across each scroll, the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin’.
Sometimes, when we wrong other people, they never forgive us and never forget what we have done, even when we sincerely repent and ask for forgiveness. Not so with God who says: