1 July. Psalms 26-31
These six psalms cover all the main themes found in the rest of the book: crying out to God for help in times of trouble, thankfulness when he responds and helps us; praise for God’s goodness and glory; dedicating oneself to holiness, in contrast to the wicked who face God’s judgement; and the fear of Sheol.
Sheol (also called “the Pit”) was to Jews what Hell was to medieval Christians, only without the horned devil and lake of fire. It was, rather, a dark and Godless place to spend eternity, and being away from God’s presence in this life was nearly as bad. The fear was that if one’s life as not good enough, that is where one would end up. “To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, do not refuse to hear me, for if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.” (28:1); “O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit” (30:3).
The Pit can take many forms: the darkness of depression, a sense of unforgiveable guilt (though in fact those who are aware of their guilt are very close to receiving God’s forgiveness, if only they ask), loneliness or physical pain. The message of the Psalms, indeed the whole Bible, is that although such experiences may make us feel abandoned by God, in fact he is never far away and there will come a time when we can again experience the sunshine of his love. “For God’s anger lasts only a moment; but his favour lasts a lifetime. Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (30:5). I quote here the New International Version, as this was among the first verses that I committed to memory as a new Christian. It is an important lesson: there will be times when we feel the Lord’s displeasure at something we have done wrong, but like a parent telling off a young child, he would much rather be praising us for doing well, and showing us his love.
Another of my favourite verses is “Into your hand I commit my spirit; for you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth” (Ps. 31:5), which is recited every night in the office of Compline – a good way to end the day, with a feeling of being protected by the hand of the Almighty.