A Reflection on Psalm 107
by Dan Spragg
About a year ago I got really angry. At God. I’m not one to get angry all that often – or at least I’m not one to show my anger. I do tend to be a slow burner and then I ride my bike and all is well in the world. But, about a year ago, I got really angry at God and I told God all about it. I was increasingly frustrated by a number of things, my faith was on a bit of a plateau, sometimes the long slow decline of the church starts to get me down, and I really felt that God wasn’t pulling God’s weight in all of this. So I told God to stop being lazy and do something for once! I said things out loud with some fairly strong language and told God what I really thought!
I really like how the Psalms are so human. All of the Psalms seem to come from very human stories and situations. And in this, we can always find ourselves in them. Our stories can be found in theirs. They were put together from another time and place but they speak still to us in our time and place. Anyone who has ever found themselves going through some sort of faith crisis or having faith doubts, any sort of illness, a loss of a loved one, disappointment of some sort, any sort of storm – metaphorical or literal; these are all in the psalms.
Here in Psalm 107, we have desert places – where it is easy to become lost when the wind blows sand across the path and you can’t find your way home. Here we also find descriptions of times when we become stuck – bound in chains unable to move or free ourselves; a time when we need assistance from others to become unstuck. Here too we find an experience of illness and a reminder that we are physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual beings. That these are all connected, all having an impact on one another. Now I would like to say just quickly, that generally, we don’t equate illness with sin. But we are often too quick to disconnect our physical well-being from all the other parts of us. Stress and anxiety are clear mental and emotional states that are so often also felt in the body – in fact our bodies may be the first place we feel these. We are right to not apply a cause-and-effect thing to sin and sickness. That tends to go down some strange roads. Like, this person got sick or wasn’t cured because they didn’t have enough faith or there was some sin that their Mother’s sister’s second cousin committed which cursed the family. That’s not called Christianity but superstition. However, our health does have many factors and it is good to pay attention to all of them – mind, body, heart, and spirit. As the Psalm says, responding to God’s word and presence with gratitude for what God has done and for who God is, is a good practice for our health and wellbeing. We also find in Psalm 107 help in the storm. Apparently, “They were at their wit’s end” (v27) can also be translated as “at the end of their seamanship”. It was the end of their abilities. The situation was beyond them. It’s chaotic to find oneself beyond your abilities. Sometimes it’s dangerous. And, like being in the desert, hope can quickly disappear! All of these are very human situations and experiences – these particular Psalms from another time and place somehow speak universally to us. We find ourselves in them.
When I was having my moment with God, telling God to get off the metaphorical couch and do something, my perspectives and expectations at that moment were narrow and stuck. I was frustrated and I could not see a way forward. What I was blown away by in the few months after this wee episode was God’s response. I was not met with silence. I was not met with reproach. I was not met with any sort of belittling of my thoughts and feelings. Instead, I was met with an invitation. It was an invitation to lean in closer, an invitation to be still and know that God is God, an invitation to step into a new space in faith. I was really met simply with grace. I was met with a listening ear and a generous space of rest. Which I find in this Psalm. That God is the one who draws near when we cry out – or when we have an old-fashioned rant.
I find it interesting that so often when salvation or deliverance is talked about it is talked of as if it is always a one-time event. That Paul’s Damascus road experience is kind of the only way to frame it. But it’s just not true. I think more often than not our salvation is a collection of many smaller and larger events where we encounter God’s love and energy and we are drawn step by step more into the life of God. While we can have mountaintop salvation experiences I believe these too are steps in a much larger process.
You may have noticed in this Psalm there’s a refrain, “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.” It happens four times throughout to create a rhythm of a sort. There’s a set of circumstances described – and then, “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.” It’s generally understood that this Psalm was used when the Hebrews gathered for worship – they were encouraged to remember God’s acts of loving kindness, God’s coming to them in their various times of distress and to join in thanks to God together. This Psalm resembles part of their journey and it was written to be a reminder. That out of exile they were reunited together and returned home. And out of these stories comes their worship. And in turn, the content of their worship shapes who they are going forward. That’s a big part of what worship does for us – it shapes, little by little, who we are becoming. This is a massive reminder for anyone leading worship – that worship is best when it is grounded in the soil of our lives. It’s also a reminder for all Christians. We follow a God who is faithful and acts in loving-kindness towards us. And so we bring all of who we are to worship and remember God’s faithfulness which reminds us that when we face hard times in the future – change, disruption, illness, desert experiences – God will draw near. Our worship is what comes when we bring all of our stories and experiences and mix them together with reminders of God’s loving-kindness. And so, we “…thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.” And, when we do this, we are in the company of wisdom.
No doubt you’ve had not one salvation experience but many events and experiences that make up the ongoing story of your salvation. It can be tempting to want to forget what we go through, especially if it is particularly hard or unpleasant. Yet, they are part of our journey of growing in the life of God. And so, while it may not be pleasant to remember them it is good to remember and to be grateful for them because they remind us that God’s loving-kindness is faithful and so our character and our faith deepen and are strengthened and we gain the resolve and hope to be able to face whatever is next.
If you are struggling with how on earth you will face something next – an illness, loss of physical ability, a change at home, the loss of a loved one; remember! Cry out! Be reminded of Psalm 107, “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.” If you are struggling with something now – your faith, with loss, with the constant change around you; remember! Cry out! Be reminded of Psalm 107, “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.” The most important factor in my rant to God was how completely honest I was. It was a moment where I dropped all filters and all efforts of trying to think my way through the various roadblocks. I laid it all out and didn’t hold anything back. And there came no judgment or reproach. There came an invitation to step into rest, to step into something larger than myself and my efforts.
So, today, know this, whether your cry to God is a literal cry for help or a moment of flying off the handle. God draws alongside whenever and whatever. Especially, it seems, if you are honest. God is goodness itself. God’s loving-kindness is how God acts as good. So let us remember and give thanks and take this into whatever is next.