Reflections on Psalm 102
Distress and Pain
This man is far from home, alone, suffering. Death is looming. He is experiencing the depths of suffering.
He describes his days as ‘consumed like smoke’ (v.3). His days are empty and pointless. All has come to nothing.
“There are times when sorrow seems to be the only truth” – Oscar Wilde
In the Levitical law, the owl was unclean. The Jews were not even allowed to touch them or go near them.
This is a picture of loneliness and abandonment and of being cast out by society. It is an image of one looking in from the outside at what normal people enjoy and being excluded. The equivalent is the leper in the New Testament.
Echoes can be seen from Gethsemane in this psalm with Jesus praying in the garden, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.’ (Matthew 26:38).
What did Jesus do in Gethsemane? He prayed. Although the cup of suffering did not pass for him, he was strengthened by angels.
Rebuilding the Ruins
I have found it to be true that faith is not blind; it actually sees further.
In the grief of the months following my baby son’s death, I would walk aimlessly around on the days my daughter was in nursery. I was just aching, crying and missing him. Every time I saw children playing together, the same age as my children would have been, it was like a physical pain in my heart. I remember one day I was walking around empty handed through Pollok Park with my friend. There were mothers everywhere pushing prams or carrying slings with babies. There was a blanket of stifling sorrow over me. My friend was crying too. She said, ‘I have been praying that the Lord would restore your soul, one day at a time’
This type of friendship is restorative. The friend that grieves with you in your pain and speaks hope and life into your despair is a rare treasure. God is restoring my soul as I hold on to Him.
V.16 says ‘The Lord builds up Zion.’ V.13 says, ‘You will arise and have pity on Zion.’
Zion is a picture of the community of believers. I saw a glimpse of Zion in the love and compassion of my friend. There is hope of restoration, and this was very real to me in the compassion of friendship.
It is echoed by Isaiah 61, the prophecy that Jesus read in the temple and claimed that it had been fulfilled in Him.
‘The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted
To proclaim freedom for the captives…
To comfort all who mourn,
And provide for those who grieve in Zion-
To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning
And a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.’
In the book of Hebrews, chapter 1 it speaks of Jesus, ‘in the beginning oh Lord, you laid the foundations.’ Jesus created, but he is also recreating. He will recreate us through our pain and loss and grief as we turn to Him and cry out to Him.
Jesus – God is with Us
The central message of Psalm 102 is the ultimate victory of life over death and hope out of despair.
This hope has its source in the eternal enduring power of God to restore and rebuild out of ruins. It teaches us to start always by crying out to God, knowing he listens, he hears the cry of the destitute and is moved with compassion to act. He cannot ignore the cry of his children. This psalm teaches us and reminds us of the power of prayer and of worship and points to the resurrection.
‘The resurrection has meaning for humanity and the whole suffering creation. The Easter icon of the Orthodox Church shows that pictorially: Christ’s resurrection begins in the world of the dead. He draws up Adam with his right hand and Eve with his left and with them pulls humanity and the whole sighing creation out of the realm of the dead into the new transfigured world of the eternal life of the new creation. So we may say that Jesus death on the cross was solitary, and exclusively his death but his raising from the dead is inclusive, open to the world and embracing the universe, an event not merely human and historical but cosmic too, the beginning of the recreation of all things.’ Jurgen Moltmann.