I’m Drowning Here…and you’re describing the water.

 

This Psalm and its’ prayers help us give voice to the deepest expressions of human pain, crisis and doubt.  But it does so in a way that claims the promise of God’s presence in the middle of our suffering and also the promise that the God who is with us will preserve us.

 

 

I’m Drowning Here….

 

Next to Psalm 22, Psalm 69 is most quoted psalm in the New Testament.  It is quoted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and also in Acts and Romans. And beyond that there are many references to it. When you read it you’ll see why.

Psalm 69

 

1Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.

2I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.

3I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

4More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore?

5O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

6Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me, O God of Israel.

7It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.

8I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.

9It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

10When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.

11When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

12I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.

13But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help

14rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

15Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

16Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

 

What a great opening line. “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.”

This brought several things came to my mind: the recent flooding in that part of Texas where I grew  up; the whole discussion about ‘water boarding’ as an acceptable form of interrogation; and several years ago when Susan and I tried to take our inflatable boat out of the Spokane river and I learned about the sheer power of that current. I can identify with the literal “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.”

No image better than that of flooding waters captured for the ancient Israelites what it feels like when the bottom drops out. That image is prevalent in the Psalter’s prayers of lament. Psalm 130 begins with the famous cry, “Out of the depths, I cry to you.” Psalm 42/43 “all your waves and your billows have passed over me” (42:7). And Psalm 88 cries out, “Your dread assaults … enclose me like a flood” (verses 16b-17a).

As a metaphor, the image still speaks to us with surprising force. When have you felt like you were “up to your neck” and couldn’t take any more? When have you felt like you were simply “drowning” in stress or crisis? It’s part of our every day vocabulary.

The third verse that reads: I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. recalls to my mind scenes from the1997 movie As Good As It Gets.  I don’t know whether you remember it but it was about how the world of an obsessive compulsive novelist is turned upside down by a brutal assault on his homosexual neighbor, a waitress with a sick child and an endearing little dog. Jack Nicholson portrays Melvin, this offensive person who can’t help but say insulting things without thinking but who finds himself taking care of his neighbor’s dog.

At one point Melvin remarks of his own life: “I’m drowning here.  And you’re describing the water”.

Carol the waitress asks Siimon, Melvin’s neighbor, “How are you? He answers: “Don’t ask. I’m tired of my own complaints.”

Late one evening Melvin takes his neighbor a container of Chinese soup.  Sharing a bench with the neighbor the neighbor says to Melvin: “Is this fun for you?  You lucky devil.  It just keeps getting better and better doesn’t it?  I’m losing my apartment, Melvin. And Frank, he wants me to beg my parents, who haven’t called me, for help. And I won’t.  And…I… I don’t want to paint any more. So the life that I was trying for, is over.  The life that I had is gone, and I’m feeling so damn sorry for myself that it’s difficult to breathe.”  That’s Psalm 69.

This Psalm and its’ prayers help us give voice to the deepest expressions of human pain, crisis and doubt.  But it does so in a way that claims the promise of God’s presence in the middle of our suffering and also the promise that the God who is with us will preserve us.  We have a God who listens to us in our crisis. Who hears us when we pray.

Psalm 69 speaks of the alienation of the psalmist from “those who hate me”, from “my kindred” and “my mother’s children”, from the psalmist’s own body, and most importantly from God.   Remember the children’s song? Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, Guess I’ll go eat worms… Well, that’s Psalm 69.  The psalmist nevertheless pleads “do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me without cause”. And it does so because it believes that the Lord’s very heart is made up of steadfast love and faithfulness: “Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good” .

The Psalmist admits that life is not as well-ordered as a simple Sunday school faith may pretend. He acknowledges that life is really messy, and even protests to heaven that things should not be as they are. But, through prayer, his evoking action from God – it enables us to move to a new place. It give us words for the deepest, darkest nights of our lives — when the bottom drops out, when the pain seems too much to bear. It tell us that God is big enough for everything we’ve got — our pain, our anger, our questions, our doubts. It even suggest that genuine biblical faith is comfortable challenging God. And that God is present with us precisely when it feels like God isn’t there.

 

1Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.

2I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.

3I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

4More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore?

5O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

6Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me, O God of Israel.

7It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.

8I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.

9It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

10When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.

11When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

12I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.

13But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.

 

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