We often peer into the Bible from a safe distance, having the benefit of seeing the whole story unfold before us. In the case of the life of David, we are familiar with his rise and eventual fall. The distance can separate us from his experience in such a way that we read of his trials but say ‘he but not me.’ The achingly robust faith that he expresses in the prayer of Psalm 31 is not so easily evaded though. We question our own faith and trust in the goodness of the Lord when our lives become a spiral of unending travail and alienation, especially at the hands of others. “Where are you?” we cry out. Forsaken may even creep into our vocabulary, a slow burning doubt that our Lord truly does have us in hand. In the remaining ember of light, we encounter the core of David’s psalm.
Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.
Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends—those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.
Let me not be put to shame, O Lord, for I have cried out to you; but let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave.
Let their lying lips be silenced, for with pride and contempt they speak arrogantly against the righteous. ( vv 9 – 18 )
Why must he express his agonies to the Lord who has David’s (and our) life in His hands? Does he fear that God has missed something and is somehow unaware of the troubles that he faces? No, the laments and petitions are rooted in the tightness of the relationship. David is so secure in the bond between he and the Lord that he can simply empty himself without fear of offending. We too can empty our problems out to God, assured that He is already aware of them but delighted that we are close enough to be able to reveal them.
The cry for the wicked to be put to shame and to be silenced strikes us as imprecation. The call for a curse however is not vengeful but and expression of trust in God’s character. This is fragile ground, wishing ill to be visited on others. We must be certain of our righteousness before exploring it and, in most cases, we are better off simply expressing faith in the goodness of God and His perfect justice. There always a chance that we might be slightly at fault for our troubles, right?
The core of this psalm is surrounded by poetic entreaties of trust in the Lord. David expresses his trust in vivid wording:
In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge…
be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me…
Since you are my rock and my fortress…
Free me from the trap…
Into your hands I commit my spirit…
I trust in the Lord. ( cf vv 1 – 6 )
No matter the threats that face us, we can trust in the eternal goodness of the Lord. You see, we may temporarily be visited by pain and sorrow for a day or a month or ten years that causes us to wonder why the Lord may have turned from us. Doubt may creep in. Our difficulty in trusting comes because of the narrowness of our perspective. We see things in terms of our lifetime but God works out His plan over the course of eternity. What is going on in our short lives plays a role in history that may be centuries removed and thus, becomes a matter of trust. Our relationship with God and the confidence that characterizes it must develop as our understanding of His eternal nature and perspective matures. Troubles today, an eternity with God tomorrow.
How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.
In the shelter of your presence you hide them from the intrigues of men; in your dwelling you keep them safe from accusing tongues. (vv 19 – 20)
Deliverance may come today or tomorrow or it may be stayed until the next phase of your eternity but come it will. God has promised deliverance to those who love Him and if you count yourself among those who do, your confidence is well placed. Though our prayer may begin with lament, it should always end in praise, just as this psalm does. This is a good place to bookmark in your Bible. Come back to it again and again to remind yourself that God knows your pain but loves to hear it from you because you express your love and trust in him as you express it. Praise him.
Praise be to the Lord, for he show his wonderful love to me when I was in a besieged city.
In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.
Love the Lord, all his saints!
The Lord preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full.
Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. (vv 21 – 24)