From Despair to Hope

Psalm 130

13 August 2006

Fifield Christian Fellowship

Morning service


The theme of the Psalm is clear from its opening words Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lordref. The writer is in despair. He is in the depths of spiritual depression. And the question is, how can he recover? How can he find his way back to God again?

I don't know if you have ever experienced this kind of spiritual despair. It is something the non-Christian ought to experience constantly—but in his hardened heart he rarely ever does. It is something you'd think the Christian should be immune from—but truthfully, we aren't are we? I can tell you that in my Christian life, I've been through the depths a couple of times. Perhaps you have too, and likely we will again. That's why we need this Psalm: even if not for ourselves, we will know somebody who does.

The verses of the Psalm neatly fall into four sections, with a pair of verses in each section. The first three pairs tell us what the Psalmist needs in order to escape from the depths, the last is his advice to others.

He needs Help (v1,2)

So, in verses 1 and 2, we find that the first thing the Psalmist needs is help.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.ref

At last he's realised that he can't save himself. If he is going to escape from despair he's going to need help, and so he cries out to God.

Calvin observes that when times are good we rarely pray, because, as he says, "our hearts are in a state of infatuated security" . He goes on to observe that when times are bad, we pray even less! In the times of deepest misery we turn inward and don't reach out, perhaps because we are afraid of what might happen.

But our Psalmist has realised that he needs help if he is ever to escape the depths.

The help he needs is not self-help. And he doesn't need to take a pill, or talk it over with a therapist or a friend. These all have their place, but in the end, only God-help can truly save us from the depths of spiritual despair. And the Psalmist has finally understood this.

If we are in the Spiritual depths and not crying out to God, we will never find a lasting way out. It's as if we were sucked into quicksand. We might be able to lift ourselves up for a moment before we are sucked down again; others might be able to haul us up for a while; but in the end only God has the strength to pull us out for good, and put our feet on solid ground.

The Psalmist has realised that the only way forward is prayer, not despair. If there is one phrase you should take away with you from this sermon, then perhaps that ought to be it: "prayer not despair" . We need help to escape from the depths.

He needs Mercy (v3,4)

So, if the first thing the Psalmist needs is help, the second is mercy. He cried for mercy at the end of verse two, and in verses 3 and 4 we see why he needs it.

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.ref

We see that the Psalmist has made a startling diagnosis of his situation: he doesn't need cheering up; he doesn't need to snap out of it; he doesn't need a holiday, or a change of job, or a divorce. What he needs is mercy! He needs forgiveness!

To the modern mind that's an extraordinary way of looking at it, isn't it? But, you see, the source of his despair is that he is out of relationship with God. He's cried out to God for help, which is an excellent start, but there still remains the problem of the sin that keeps him under condemnation, and far from the Lord.

The Psalmist asks a question to help us see the massive problem that sin poses, If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?ref If God started executing his just and correct judgement at once each time we sinned, how long would the human race last? A day? An hour? Less? We'd be dropping like flies, wouldn't we, like Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts. That's what we deserve.

If God truly marked our sins, everyone of us would find ourselves in the depths of hell that Jesus described: in the darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Isn't that the ultimate spiritual despair? This is what the Psalmist has had a taste of, and he knows that the only way to escape is for his sin to be dealt with.

And thankfully for us all, we have a God with whom there is forgiveness. For those who come to him in faith and humility the record can be wiped clean. No matter what we've done, he will empty the file for good. And then there is no barrier to us knowing God closely.

Of course, we must not misinterpret verse 3. There is a record of sins for those who don't come in faith and humility. Hosea says The guilt of Ephraim is stored up, his sins are kept on recordref. But, God's patient mercy is shown every day in the fact that he has postponed his judgement. He doesn't zap people instantly. He gives everyone a chance to return to him and wipe the slate clean.

Often it is the weight of our guilt that keeps us in the depths, isn't it. But if we come to God he forgives and forgets the sin, and so should we. Whatever it is we've done, no matter how bad it may be, when God has forgiven us we must learn to forgive ourselves.

Our Psalmist knew that his guilt and sin was keeping him in the depths of despair. And like a fugitive on the run he's been avoiding facing up to it, but finally he's come to the place where he can get what he so desperately needs: mercy.

He needs Hope (v5,6)

So, help and mercy are two of the things our Psalmist needs as he tries to escape from the depths. The third and last is hope, and we find him hopeful in verses 5 and 6.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.ref

When talking to a person suffering from depression, what is most striking and most terrifying is the complete lack of hope. And so it is with spiritual depression too. But, building on his cry for God's help, and his call for God's mercy, the Psalmist has now found grounds for hope. Without hope he would sink back into the depths of despair. With hope he is able to wait for the break of day, when rays of sunlight will shine again into his darkened heart.

The watchmen patrolled the city, on the look-out for danger from an enemy attack through the night-time hours. No streetlights in those days: the nights were hard and full of perils. But one thing was always certain: the dawn was coming, the end was in sight, and how they longed for it.

Where did the Psalmist find his hope? He found it in God's word. He read his Bible. The Bible is packed full of hope! It is drenched in hope! God's promises always come true, so we know that the dawn will always come. Hope for the future dispels despair.

If we are not reading our Bibles we are not feeding our hope. If we are not feeding our hope, we are in danger of losing hope altogether, and slipping down into the same depths the Psalmist found himself in at the start.

So, as we read our Bibles we should take note of God's promises and apply them to ourselves, weaving them into our souls.

Sometimes God's promises seem a bit abstract and distant, don't they, as if they apply to someone else. So, sometimes reading with a different emphasis can be a great help. For example in Psalm 23 we can build our hope by the way we read it, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet watersref. There is great grounds for hope here, isn't there?

He comforts the people (v7,8)

In verses one to six the Psalmist has climbed a ladder of crying for help, calling for mercy and continuing in hope. Finally he turns to comforting others in verses 7 and 8.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sinsref

What a long way he has come since verse one! Spurgeon calls these verses the Pearl of Redemption. He says, "perhaps the sweet singer would never have found that precious thing had he not been cast into the depths—pearls lie deep."

Having been through the depths himself the Psalmist can hold out the lifebelt of hope to others. He himself has put his hope in the Lord; he has waited for the Lord, verse 5. His very soul has waited for the Lord, verse 6. And the Lord has not let him down.

So his advice to others is don't put your hope in anything else, put your hope in the Lord. Why should we put our hope in the Lord? Because verse 7, with the Lord is unfailing loveref. What gives us grounds for hope? Because with him is full redemptionref

In the last verse of the Psalm the writer reminds us that he is not only a poet, but a prophet. He looks forward to a time when God would redeem his people from all their sinsref.

Without an act of redemption, which is paying the price for all the people's sins, any hope of forgiveness can only in the end be wishful thinking, can't it? Just whistling in the dark.

The Psalmist knows that. He knows that when he said in verse 4 with the Lord is forgivenessref, it wasn't simply a matter of God overlooking his sins and just saying "OK, let's forget about it shall we" . The Psalmist knows that there is a price to be paid for his sin. That one day there must be redemption.

For us of course, that day is behind us. We can look back and see clearly what the Psalmist only looked forward to: a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem, where God redeemed us from our sins with the life of his only Son.

If we ever have any doubt that with the Lord there is steadfast love, with the Lord there is forgiveness and with the Lord there is plenteous redemption, then that is where we should look.

In the end, we have an immense advantage over the Psalmist, don't we? We have the certain knowledge of the Cross of Christ. In the depths of despair we can lift our eyes to the cross, and it is there that we can find help, we can find mercy, and we can find hope.