Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 14:22-36; Acts 21:27-40; Psalm 39; Exodus 30-31
The psalmist is in some deep anguish. He is suffering intensely and questioning the purpose of his life (Psalm 39:4). We might imagine him struggling with a chronic painful condition, wondering how long he will have to endure. At first, he decides he will suffer in silence. He won’t even try to say anything good, perhaps fearing it will come out the wrong way or be taken up wrongly. Yet as he bottled up his pain, the pressure built within and his anguish expanded. He had to speak, or he would burst. So he cried to the Lord for help
He sees how fleeting life is: here today, gone tomorrow. Life is but a breath, a vapour, as Ecclesiastes expounds upon. At the same time, he prays to understand how temporal his life is. Many rush around accumulating wealth without realising it all passes away. Maybe he has regrets as he faces his own mortality, realising he has wasted much of his life pursuing material things.
However, the psalmist’s pain has another source. He did not want to speak about his anguish because he knew that God was behind his pain. He did not know how to speak of this without fools (those who do not believe in God) taking advantage of his words. In this particular case, God is rebuking and disciplining the psalmist for his sin (Psalm 39:11). This leads the psalmist to further struggles. On the one hand, his hope is in the Lord, so he welcomes God’s involvement in his life; on the other hand, no discipline is pleasant and he wishes God would leave him alone (Psalm 39:13). No wonder he was afraid to voice his struggles. Yet in his honesty, he shows that we can go to God and unload all our doubts and questions.
In Psalm 39, the anguish and suffering is traced to God’s disciplining hand (39:11). The biblical message is that the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, just as a father disciplines his children (Hebrews 12:4-11). Psalm 38 raises an important balancing point. Here, suffering is traced back to the consequences of sin and the actions of others (Psalm 38:18-20). Suffering can have very different sources. Just because Psalm 39 identifies the hand of God behind the anguish, we should not think that God is the orchestrator of all the suffering we go through. Suffering has many sources.
What we see in both these Psalms is a common way to respond to suffering. Whether wronged by others, burdened by our own sin, or disciplined by God, the psalmist seeks God’s presence and comfort (38:21-22; 39:12). He voices his doubts and struggles, seeing that silence only intensifies his feelings. His security in his relationship with God allowed him to be open with him. He wanted God both to turn away and leave him alone, but also to listen to him and no longer be a stranger. Like a child who is both angry at his parents’ discipline and longing for their loving presence, David’s honest ambivalence is reassuring. We do not like the Lord’s discipline, yet through it we know we are loved. This can help us come to see that meaning in life is found only by living in the Lord’s presence (Ecclesiastes 12:13).