Afflictions Eclipsed by Glory: God’s Immanence in our Pain
I started studying Psalm 102 in the hope of shedding light on our suffering and our response to God in the midst of it. It was particularly real in the light of losing our son, Benjamin, and coming to terms with his death.
Although it not known for certain. It is thought that this psalm was written by a young man dying in captivity, a Jew in the time of the exile in Babylon in 540 BC.
Far from home, with unfulfilled hopes for this life, he was dying in the prime of his life, alone. Losing a child carries a similar sense of loss of hope.
In essence Psalm 102 is a prayer, a cry for help to God.
It gives immense insight into this mans relationship to God and how he responded in time of affliction. How we react under pressure says more about who we are than anything else in our life.
Distress and pain
The psalmist cries out, ‘Do not hide your face from me. Incline your ear to me.’ (v.2). God is not addressed like a force or an anonymous power, but a person who hears and turns when he hears his children in distress.
1. Can you identify with this cry in the midst of your own pain? Start with pouring out your distress to God.
In v.6 he describes himself ‘like a desert owl amongst the ruins’. This is an image of loneliness and desolation in the middle of a dark night.
In v.7 he says, ‘I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.’ Sparrows are not characteristically alone. They are normally in flocks. It is most unusual for a sparrow to sit mourning alone – it only happens when the birds mate has been killed, its nest and young destroyed.
2. In what way do these ‘bird metaphors’ in the psalm echo your own feelings in the midst of your grief?
The first 12 verses are a monologue of misery. It is unceasing lamentation, a heart poured out to God in great distress. These verses can be seen as a prayer, perhaps the deepest form of prayer that there is. They attest to the power of prayer as a transformational process. In the pouring out of his distress, with his eyes fixed on the face of God, this man’s experience of suffering is transformed.
3. When you feel overwhelmed with sorrow, do you find strength in pouring your heart out to God? What happens when you pray?
The psalmist moves out of his misery into a proclamation of trust and hope in v.12, ‘But you, O Lord, shall be enthroned forever.’ His hope is framed within a promise in the central stanza- ‘God will rebuild’ (v.16).
In this there is a promise of restoration. The theme of restitution, of recompense and of justice is pulsing through scripture. It sometimes seems insufficient comfort at times, when we do not have the children we love in our arms, and we miss them every day.
4. What do the words mean to you, ‘God will rebuild’? Have you seen glimpses of this as you look at the ruins around you?
Jesus – God with us
This psalm is prophetic, pointing to the incarnation of Jesus Christ: His coming into our world of pain.
In v.20 there is a glorious prophecy to the incarnation of Jesus. It says ‘to hear the groaning of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die.’ This speaks of salvation: God coming in response to the cries of His imprisoned people.
Jesus said of Himself, ‘Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it after 3 days.’ He was talking about the resurrection, His defeat of death. Surely this is the greatest of restorations, the destruction of death forever.
5. What does it mean to you that Jesus, who suffered injustice, loneliness and death is ‘God with us’?
This study was graciously created by Netty – An A&E Doctor, wife and busy mother of three young children.