This week we look at chapter 12 in Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, which deals with Psalm 130. The theme is Hope.
“A Christian is a person who decides to face and live through suffering” (p. 137). Trouble and suffering are a part of the human condition. Suffering intensifies the experience of pain because it adds the “awareness that our own worth as people is threatened, that our own value as creatures made in the dignity of God is called into question, that our own destiny as eternal souls is jeopardized.”
“By setting the anguish out in the open and voicing it as a prayer, the psalm gives dignity to our suffering” (p. 138). One response to suffering is to deny it is real–to erect a mental or emotional wall so that we avoid dealing with it altogether. This is hazardous because pretending it does not exist does not make it cease to exist. It is still there having its effects. “The gospel offers a different view of suffering: in suffering we enter the depths; we are at the heart of things; we are near to where Christ was on the cross.” Rather than to deny, the biblical view is to engage suffering because, “The depth is simply the height inverted” and “[God] is holier than our deepest sin is deep” (p. 139).
“Psalm 130…immerse[s] the suffering in God–all the suffering is spoken in the form of prayer” (p. 140). God is understood and trusted as personal, as the redeemer who brings help to us because, in words of Karl Barth, whom Peterson quotes: “God’s very being is mercy” (p. 141). Peterson adds: “And this, of course, is why we are able to face, acknowledge, accept and live through suffering: we know that it can never be ultimate, it can never constitute the bottom line.”
“There is a procedure for participating in [the reality of suffering]…given in two words: wait and watch” (p. 142). “Wait and watch add up to hope.” The image given is that of a watchman. Peterson shares his experience of finding truth in the image of watchman. He could watch and wait for the dawn because he knew that he was not to control the workings of the building–there were others present for those duties. Knowing that God cares for the world and is in control of it gives one the contentment to wait, watch, and hope, exercising “a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. [Hope] is imagination put in the harness of faith” (p. 144).