context is key
By Amanda Farbstein
October 30, 2020
Passages of the day: Click HERE to read today’s passages.
The Psalmist in Psalm 102 is praying in the exile brought about by Israel’s repeated idolatry and disobedience to God. The suffering of this individual and the nation are “because of [God’s] indignation and anger”. On the one hand, I deeply appreciate that this psalm reminds us that despite Israel’s sin, God is compassionate, that he “regards the prayer of the destitute”, and that he sets free those doomed to die for the praise of his name. We are reminded that God’s grace extends beyond the most heinous and perpetual of sins.
And yet this psalm also reminds me of the ways this historically situated hymn has been universally misapplied. I think of Jerry Falwell blaming 9/11 on gay people and feminists (and more). I think of a bible pastor to Trump’s cabinet who likewise blames COVID on gay people. These assumptions are arrogant and a disgrace to the Christian witness. These kinds of pronouncements remind me of the danger of misinterpreting Scripture.
Israel’s exile and punishment fit within the old covenant that they made with God. They agreed to the terms in which if they disobeyed, they’d face consequences. That old covenant was replaced by the new covenant through Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice brought us back from exile, lifted the curse, and redeemed us. And while we still do sin, we are no longer under condemnation. We still endure consequences for our actions, but they are not necessarily punishments by God. See Romans 8:1. Also see Job and John 9:1-12 for examples of those whose suffering is wrongfully attributed to their sin.
Psalm 102 stirs up praise for God’s character, gratitude that Jesus’ sacrifice rescued us from the curse of the law and exile, and hits a bit of a nerve when remembering how wrongfully its story has been applied. And yet the psalm gives comfort even for that because we are reminded that God is eternal, supreme, and powerful. That he cares about justice! We worship a God of righteousness and truth. And his righteousness and truth will out.
Lord, hear my prayer!
Listen to my plea!
Don’t turn away from me
in my time of distress.
Bend down to listen,
and answer me quickly when I call to you.
— Psalm 102:1-2
Prayer to start with: Dear Lord, hear our cries and prayers and show us your compassion in our suffering. Teach and enable us how to show it generously also to others. May we wait for your justice with hope, faith, and endurance.