Waiting for Redemption
August 9, 2009
1 Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
3 If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.
6 My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.
If you keep up with things in TVland, you probably know that until recently, CSI was the most popular program on the planet. According to Eurodata, a firm that ranks shows by their worldwide ratings, in 2007 nearly 84 million viewers around the world watched the original CSI series (the one set in Las Vegas). In 2008, House edged it out of first place, but it was still a top ten program.
Part of CSI’s attraction is the way it uses darkness. The show is not filmed in natural light. It is shot using a blue filter. This light-altering lens adds a layer of darkness to the shows’ appearance and gives it a distinctive look.
Ron Rosenbaum, writing in The New York Observer, says this darkness is a way that several dramas try to convey that they are “quality TV.” A number of programs use the technique today, but the original CSI pioneered the technique. If the crime-scene investigators were working outdoor work, it was usually at night, but even when they’re out in daylight, it’s never really bright. Their lab apparently has no windows whatsoever, and except for the area right around the actors, which is usually starkly illuminated, the rest of the lab trails off into blackness—suggesting that they are the good guys working to keep back the darkness.
Now I have about given up on CSI but several years ago, I was a fan and watched many episodes, but one thing they did always bugged me. When the investigators enter an indoor crime scene, they never flip on the light switch. Instead, they proceed with only their flashlights illuminating their way. They will be going over a dark house with flashlights, and I am saying, “Why don’t they turn on the lights?” Well, actually they are conveying a message. A crime has occurred in the darkness, they are bringers of light. The intrepid investigators are entering a realm of darkness and chaos where crime and death reign, where people do the most awful things to other people, and the investigators are bringers of light and truth. This is all symbolized by a flashlight in a dark room.
And this brings us to Psalm 130, which begins with the lament, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.” The psalmist is in a dark abyss with not even a flashlight.
We can read this first verse in several ways. We may think that “depths” is simply a way of indicating the intense sincerity of the psalmist’s plea. We may think he is pleading with God from the depths of his soul.
But that’s not really what the psalmist is saying; “depths” is a translation of the Hebrew word, “Sheol.” In the OT, Sheol was a pit underneath the earth were the dead were gathered. It was a place of death and darkness, without hope and without God. But the psalmist is not literally dead, so he is using “Sheol” figuratively to refer to the ugly chaotic forces that trouble human life. Sometimes this earth seems like it is Sheol, a place of darkness, without hope. In 1994, in the tiny African country of Rwanda, the majority Hutu tribe took up machetes and literally hacked to death almost a million people, almost 20% of the total population of Rwanda. You have to ask yourself, how could people do that to people?
You might say, well that was in far away Africa, but it was only a month ago that, we all sat in stunned horror as a man killed 5 people in our neighboring county, in Cherokee County. He did not even know the people he killed. Apparently they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Make sense out of that for me.
I could list humankind’s long history of war, genocide, slaughter, which continues even as we speak, and makes a mockery of any prayers for peace, any talk about love and kindness. But I suspect aht the psalmist when he talks of depths and darkness is not only talking about humankind in general. He is talking about himself. It is not only the chaos and destructdion in the world he is concerned about. It is the chaos and destruction he finds in his own soul.
There is a joke that comes from the movie Watchmen that goes like this:
“Man goes to doctor. Says he is depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says ‘Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.’ Man bursts into tears. Says ‘But Doctor... I am Pagliacci.’"
Now I know what you are thinking. That is not funny. No, it is not, because it is too true. The psalmist is not talking about other people’s sinfulness and darkness and despair. He is talking about himself. Thus the force of the opening line of Psalm 130 is, “Out of the pit of my darkness I cry” or “From the bottom of my despair I cry to you.”
He speaks for us, for all of us. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by sin and circumstances. It may be that wew have brought out problems upon ourselves, but that does not help us to know that. Yes it is our own fault, but what do we do now.
The word “iniquities” appears in verses 3 and 8. It means not only the sin itself, but the guilt of sin and the punishment of sin. Our iniquity is our sin and the guilt we feel because of the sin and the punishment we know we deserve for the sin. Thus “iniquities” are the corruption of the heart.”
Isaiah 59:2: “[Y]our iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” And so with the psalm-writer, we cry out to God, imploring God’s attention and forgiveness, in the midst of sensing the depths of our overwhelming iniquity, guilt and impending punishment.
The psalm-writer is well aware that if God were to “mark” iniquities instead of being willing to forgive them, no one could stand before God,. If God were to judge each and every one of our sins and our guilt for the sin, there would be no forgiveness. Fortunately for us, God does not operate that way.
In verses 5-6, the most significant verbs are “wait” and “hope”. We are among those who eagerly await the Lord’s forgiveness and confidently anticipate that God will answer our cry for help.
The Psalmist says, “I wait for the Lord.” But that does not convey the intensity of his feelings. He adds, “My soul waits.”
Now I know that sometimes when we talk about waiting, we mean that we are patiently enduring a certain period of time, but in the psalm, waiting is linked to an eager sense of expecting, looking for, longing for, hoping for. The image of the psalm is that of guards or watchmen who are desperately eager for morning to come, to bring relief from the terrors of the night.
The psalmist trusts that the Lord will act. God will keep his promises about forgiveness. We are the same. We firmly believe that if God says it, we can count on it.
V7 speaks of God’s “steadfast love” and his “great power to redeem.” In the Old Testament, there was a family office or position called in Hebrew the “goel” which is usually translated as redeemer. Ancient society was a slave society, and if you fell into debt, you and your whole family could be sold into slavery to pay off your debt. It was then the function of the goel to buy back family members out of slavery, to redeem them. Now we don’t know how often this was actually done in ancient Israel. Most families probably did not have a rich uncle who could function as a goel.
So ultimately most Israelites would look to God, who has, as the psalmist says, the power to redeem. God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. In the NT, God has delivered us, through Jesus Christ.
Ultimately the hope that the psalmist waits for, and longs for, comes from the NT. Thus we read in the gospel of John, “... in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (1:4-5).
This is the central insight of the protestant reformation. Here it is, I am a sinner. God does not like my sins. Let us be really blunt, I am damned because of my sins. I can decide that I am going to do better, but I really don’t. I look at the sermon on the mount, those wonderful words we have from Jesus. It says, love your enemies, bless those who persecute you. I don’t do that. Do you do that? It is just us here today. We need to be honest. When terrorists flew planes into the WTC in 2001, I did not love them, and I do not forgive them. Jesus said that if you have looked at a pretty woman with lust in your heart you have committed adultery, even though you did not do the actual act. You realize what that means don’t you? It means that every heterosexual male on the planet is an adulterer.
This is what the law always does. The law does save us. The law condemns us. If we are trying to please God by being good, the harder we try the more we realize that we are not good. Let me tell you about a contradiction that I have observed in life. I have been observing people for many years, and I have found it to be universally true that the best people I have known, the most moral people, are the people who are most aware of and most concerned about their sins and follies.
But if even our best are acknowledged sinners, what does that say about the rest of us? We are all like the psalmist crying out from the depths of our sins and failures—trying to be good and failing miserably.
Thus we are all condemned and justly so. We deserve to be condemned. Thus, the first spiritual insight that can lead toward any kind of reconciliation with God is that we cannot rely upon ourselves. I am a sinner, and therefore I can find nothing in myself that leads to salvation; therefore I must rely entirely upon God.
Martin Luther was a central figure in the Reformation and a key phrase for Luther was “the righteousness of God.” What, he asked, is the “righteousness of God?” In the Middle Ages, most people thought that the righteousness of God was that righteousness by which God judges the world for its failure to keep his law. God is just and condemns us for our sins and God is “right” to do so. Thus, Luther said that in his early studies of the Bible, he hated the expression “the righteousness of God.” God is just, God punishes the unjust, and Luther was well aware that he was one of the unjust. But then, as Luther studied the book of Romans, he realized that was not the Apostle Paul meant by that phrase at all. Rather, Paul said, the righteousness of God is a gift given by God to his people.
Let me quote Luther:
“Now this alone is the right Christian way, that I turn away from my sin and want nothing more to do with it and turn alone to Christ’s righteousness, so that I know for certain that Christ’s goodness, merit, innocence, and holiness are mine, as surely as I know that this body is mine. In his name I live, die and pass away, for he died for us and was resurrected for us. I am not good and just but Christ is.”
I should say that Martin Luther did not discover anything new, rather he rediscovered the treasure of the church, namely the gospel. What had happened was that in the middles ages the church sort of lost its way. It became rich and powerful and the church hierarchy was largely focused on a political agenda. The church became primarily about building buildings and raising money. Incidentally, those same charges can be leveled at the church today. The American church, many people say, is more about politics and money than the gospel. Perhaps things have not changed as much as we would like to think.
We need to hear the pure gospel. Christ died on the cross for my sins. He was righteous, innocent, sinless. His death was an atonement for my iniquities. It is like a court was in session, a divine court, and I was hauled before the court, pronounced guilty, and I was guilty. The sentence was death. Then Christ put himself in my place and died for me.
Understand that I am still the guilty sinner, but God in his love has chosen to see me through Jesus and to regard me as righteous, even though I am not. Another way to put it is that God gives us his righteousness through Jesus Christ and adopts us as his children, and our part is to have faith that God has done this.
In the hymn “Rock of Ages,” Augustus Toplady wrote: “Be of sin the double cure; Save from wrath and make me pure.” We are not pure. But through Jesus we are saved from condemnation and made a part of the pure family of God. Amen.
“CSI earth’s no. 1 show.” New York Post, June 17, 2008, nypost.com/seven/06172008/tv/csi_earths_no__1_show_115835.htm.
Rosenbaum, Ron. “In new ‘quality TV,’ dark is new light: CSI-ing of America.” The New York Observer, January 21, 2007. observer.com/node/36586.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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