Dear people crying out to the LORD,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today’s appointed psalm is the cry of a man in isolation. We might want to bookmark this one for the weeks and months ahead. According to the ancient superscription this psalm was written by David when he was hiding in a cave in order to save his life. King Saul was after him. Not only did David have to stay out of sight, but he had to forsake the companionship of friends and family lest they lead the vicious king to him, and lest they themselves be put in danger.
We can see in the phrases of the psalm a very close parallel to our own situation. The words of David give voice to our cries to the LORD. They assist us in coming up with words to use as we seek to call upon the only One who can save us from this deadly virus spreading around the globe. Our voices join with David’s and all of the faithful as we cry out to the LORD and plead for mercy.
Because these are the words of a faithful man of God in a very real situation of distress, we are assured that they are not simple pious platitudes or lofty doxological doting. These are the words of a man in distress, a man suffering in isolation, a man cut off from friends and family, a man in fear for his life. So to God he not only brings his plea, but also his complaint. Yes, he complains to God, and so might we.
One of David’s complaints comes to the faithful often, “there is no one who takes notice of me; … no one cares…” Indeed, in this world of sin and wickedness and evil, the trouble we suffer is not only that we are afflicted with disease and enemies, but also that no one seems to care, not for us. We are left alone to suffer. The phone doesn’t ring. There are no cards or letters in the mailbox. Our text messages go unanswered. It is understandable that many people are dealing with crises and they have their own households to look after, but why are there times when everyone is silent and no one is looking out for me?
We can complain to God about the state of this world and our own dire straits. It is unfair. It does hurt. It adds considerably to whatever suffering we currently have to bear. It may just be the result of everyone trying to manage all of the crises in their lives and having to care for more people than they can handle. It may be that they think we can handle our situation on our own and there are other people who are more desperate for help. It may be that they don’t know what to say or what to do or how bad we are suffering. However it all adds up, it still hurts and it is cause for complaint.
I have often heard it said, and probably also said it myself: “There is no use complaining. No one listens.” Well, we believe that there is One who does listen. So don’t hold back from complaining to Him. Take a page out of David’s book, the Book of Psalms, and pour out your complaint before the LORD. He hears and listens, and even more, He knows what you are going through.
For these complaints of David, could have come from the lips of our Lord Jesus Himself. In more than one way they did. During His holy passion, we hear from the lips of Jesus, several quotations from the psalms. He did pray them and although only phrases are quoted here and there in the gospels, like “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Psalm 22:1) and “Into Your hands I commit My Spirit” (31:5), it is likely that He prayed the psalms in their entirety at different times.
We see in Jesus’ life the same suffering of isolation that David felt and that you also feel. Jesus cried out with His voice to the heavenly Father. Several times we are told that He cried out with a loud voice, even from the cross. On the night when He instituted the Holy Supper, and went to the garden to pray, He was aware that there was a trap laid for Him, just like David mentions in Psalm 142. “In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me” (142:3). Judas arranged to have Jesus ambushed in the Garden of Gethsemane, because he knew that Jesus often went there to pray.
It was bad enough that one of the disciples led the enemies to Him and pointed Him out with a kiss, but then all the disciples left Him and fled (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50). While Peter and possibly John followed from a distance, they were of no comfort to Jesus. Even their presence in the background at His trial before the high priests was painful, as they did not speak up in His defense. Rather, Peter three times denied even knowing Jesus, at which time Jesus looked directly at him (Luke 22:61). What suffering there was in those tired eyes, wincing in pain and sorrow. “Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of Me; no refuge remains to Me; no one cares for My soul” (Psalm 142:4).
Would it have been better to be blind like the man in the Gospel reading (John 9), than to see Peter, the boldest of the disciples, betray Him in His time of deepest need? The man healed of His blindness in the Gospel reading was not entirely relieved from the suffering of isolation that such an affliction must bring. Even while experiencing the joy of being able to see for the first time, he was brought on trial and eventually kicked out of the synagogue, his church family pushing him away because they did not want to acknowledge his faith in Jesus. Even his parents distanced themselves from him, lest they too be thrown out of the synagogue community.
But there was One who heard his cry. Jesus found him. Jesus placed Himself before the man’s eyes as he was searching for his Saviour and declared to him, “You have seen Him and it is He who is speaking to you” (John 9:37). The LORD also heard David’s cry from his isolation in the cave. Eventually his family and friends and supporters rallied to him there (2 Samuel 22:1-2).
The LORD hears our complaint and He comes to rescue us. He hears because He has uttered those same cries Himself. He comes because He knows what it is to be isolated and alone in suffering. He sought out the man healed of blindness and showed Him that He was not alone. He does the same for you, and is perhaps doing it even now.
Our Lord Jesus after His needful suffering in isolation and loneliness while bearing the sins of the world in Himself, laid in the cold, dark, tomb alone, to where we all must go. But on the third day He rose again from the dead and came to those who were suffering the lonely loss of their Lord. He showed Himself to Mary weeping outside of the tomb, and to the distraught disciples on the way to Emmaus. He appeared to His disciples in the upper room and to more than 500 who witnessed Him risen from the dead.
His appearance to them was not just to testify that there is an end to suffering and isolation, but to proclaim that He has forgiveness even for those who abandoned Him in His torment. Peter, who denied our Lord three times, was given a threefold absolution when Jesus walked with him along the shore, and entrusted him to feed the Lord’s flock with this same forgiveness.
Your sins are forgiven for leaving those abandoned in their isolation. The suffering and death of Jesus alone on the cross was the price for your sins, and they are taken away. You are completely isolated from those sins now, and they will never return to you. But you are not isolated from everything.
Jesus ascended to heaven amid the company of angels and archangels and all the heavenly host, from every tribe, nation, people, and language. There He shepherds and guides us out of this great tribulation to join in the heavenly chorus. That is where David’s psalm leads us also. “Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to Your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me” (Psalm 142:7). The Lord hears your cries in your isolation and He will bring you out. He will answer and surround you with His faithful saints to join you in praising His name.
That may have to happen intermittently for now, as we go through the isolations and quarantines of this pandemic and of every other affliction that may come to us in life. But the Church of God eagerly awaits the time when it can gather together, whether it be on a Sunday morning, on Good Friday, at the great Easter festival, or in the paradise of God. The LORD hears your lonely complaint and He surrounds you with the righteous.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.