This week, I’ve been mulling over the words of Psalm 116. It’s the prayer of someone crying out to the Lord in a time of need. The Psalmist was evidently faced with a life-threatening situation: ‘The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow’ (Ps 116:3)
Death is unavoidable, and inescapable. It catches up eventually with even the youngest and fittest among us. As the COVID pandemic rages on through its second year, we’re being bombarded with constant reminders of our vulnerability and mortality. Our lives this year have been entangled by a relentless run of lockdowns, ever changing restrictions and regulations, mind-blowing facts and figures. May of us have been required to work from home, others to do their schoolwork and study from home. The longer it all goes on the easier it is to sympathise with the Psalmist’s anguish, distress and sorrow!
So what does the Psalmist do in this distressing situation? Verse 4:
‘Then I called on the name of the Lord “Lord, save me!”’
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve turned off the daily press conference, and exclaimed: ‘Lord, have mercy!’ Sometimes it’s all so overwhelming that there’s nothing else we can say. But even this response has a deep theological significance. We like to think we’re in control, and it’s our responsibility whether individually or collectively to get out of it. But do we really? Lockdowns have held COVID at bay, but they’ve struggled to contain the latest Delta outbreak. Even with 80% of the population vaccinated, we’re told we will still need to learn to live with the virus indefinitely. In the end, we can do no better than to cry out with the Psalmist, ‘Lord, save me!’ Perhaps you have found yourself praying more during this pandemic. This can only ever be a good thing! At a time like this we need the Lord to resource our doctors, to inform our scientists, to give wisdom to our leaders, and to encourage us all! We can do much worse in these troubled times than to cry out continually: ‘Lord, have mercy on us and save us!’
And while we do this, let’s not forget the reason we have to be confident! ‘The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary, when I was brought low, he saved me’ (Ps 116:5-6). Remember that the Lord our God is gracious and merciful. Remember that the Lord our God is filled with compassion for those who have been brought down low. In fact, if you want to know how far he is willing to take his compassion, look at Jesus on the cross. The same God who did everything to save you from the powers of sin, death and hell is fighting for you now. Lockdowns might be cutting you off from the people you love, but they haven’t cut you off from the love of your gracious and merciful God. Delta may be evading the control of our human authorities, but nothing can snatch you out of the hand of your gracious and merciful God. You may be walking the road of the cross with all its suffering and pain, but know that Jesus has walked that road already, and is walking it still with you.
‘Return to your rest, my soul,’ the Psalmist says, ‘for the Lord has been good to you.’