A friend came to visit with me the other day and to share with me some struggles that he’s been having with his faith. He’s a great guy: he’s had a full and successful career; he relates well to others and is a willing servant; he believes God’s Word and the promises of the gospel. And right there, in a funny way, is the problem. He believes the promises of scripture; he just doesn’t feel like he experiences the promises of scripture. He told me how he keeps reading and hearing the Bible’s assurances that we’ll receive guidance and joy and peace; but in spite of his longing and waiting, he doesn’t see these qualities blooming in his life.
I think about his situation as I read the words from Psalm 130, which is one of the texts in today’s Daily Office. “Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD,” the psalmist says. “Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” (vs. 1-2)
Of course, at one point or another, just about all of us hit those moments when we feel like we’re crying “out of the depths.” But the great irony of these words is that they’re found in a “song of ascents.” This is the name given to a collection of 15 psalms (120 to 134) that most scholars believe were used in the context of pilgrims “ascending” or “going up” to worship in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. Right in the middle of what one would expect to be a joyous and expectant occasion, one finds instead this mournful cry of abandonment.
Naturally, we could speculate endlessly about the various reasons that people find themselves in these unexpected and promise-defying depths; and I imagine that the underlying causes would be as varied as the people are. But shouldn’t this remind us that even in the middle of what we’d anticipate to be “mountaintop” experiences (like worship and the holiday season, for example) there can still be friends who feel trapped in the valley? And doesn’t that make it that much more important for us to be attentive to one another, so that we can encourage those who struggle? And doesn’t that make it that much more important for us to be honest with one another, so that people who are making that mournful climb will come to realize that they’re not alone in the depths (which I suspect they never are)?
Psalm 130 acknowledges, I think, that our time in the depths may require patient endurance. The psalmist says, “I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits; and in His word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.” (vs. 5-6) But ultimately, the psalm ends with this word of assurance: “Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption.” (v. 7)
I pray that this word assurance will prove to be true in the experience of my friend. May his “mournful climb” out of the depths lead him at last to the majesty of God’s presence. And may we, too, find that majesty — as we hope in the Lord and help one another on the journey to His throne.