A Reflection on Psalm 86.1-10 by Canon Rob,
25th June, The Third Sunday after Trinity
Psalm 86 is a prayer by an individual who is in a bad place. He is in trouble and depressed. Regular readers of these Reflections will know that I am a fan of the local library and, to make a complete change from the books I usually borrow, I have recently read “Lily and the Octopus” by Steven Rowley. It is about the relationship (I think autobiographical) between the author and his dog who, though elderly, he had to decide to have put to sleep because she developed brain cancer. It is a book about love and loss and on the very last page I read, “There isn’t a well-lived life that’s free of loss, and I promise the love will return to you ten-fold.” It must have taken Steven Rowley a long time to reach this conclusion because he was totally devastated: having to make an impossible decision and then to sit and hold Lily whilst she died in the vet’s surgery. The circumstances for the author of today’s psalm will have been very different. However the effect is the same: devastation and darkness, something which most of us will have gone through during a period of grief, whatever the loss may have been.
The first three verses reveal the depth of despair the writer is going through. Verse 1: “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and in misery.” God, please listen! Verse 2: “Preserve my soul, for I am faithful; save your servant, for I put my trust in you.” Yes, God is listening, but will He help me? Verse 3: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; I call upon you all the day long.” I know, God, that you can be merciful. Please show me some of that mercy! None of us can go through life without being hurt. The way we respond varies a great deal though. Some will come through it with their faith in God strengthened. Others are so hurt and disillusioned that they turn their backs on God. Some will become angry and want to know, “Why is this happening to me?” Others will respond to their pain by simply asking, “Why not me?” We don’t know why the writer of the psalm is so depressed, but we do know he clung on to his faith in God, believing that He is “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love.” [verse 5] and that God will answer his prayer. [Verse 7] It is this recognition which seems to lift the writer out of his deepest gloom, and begin to see, as we would say today, “the bigger picture.” Like him we should be encouraged to pray at all times even when we don’t feel like praying. We may not get the answer we want. We may have to wait a seemingly long time. But there ought to be nothing that we cannot pray to God about.
The “bigger picture” for the author of today’s psalm is expressed in verses 8 – 10. People around him may have other gods, but he is certain that nothing (and no-one) can ever compare with the God in whom he believes and trusts. [Verse 8] That’s because [verse 10] he knows there is only One, True God who is “great” and does “wonderful things.” And how he wishes that “All nations….shall come and worship….and shall glorify [the Lord’s] name.” [Verse 9] The darkness has lifted somewhat, as in the last two pictures and verses from the psalm.
One more thing to notice about Psalm 86 is that most of it is an echo from elsewhere in the Old Testament. Just a few examples for you to find, as you reflect upon it. Verses 1 – 4 echo phrases in other psalms, including 35.10, 50.5, 79.2 and 109.16. Verses 5 -7 are reminiscent of Exodus 34.6-7 where Moses recognises that God is “compassionate and gracious, long-suffering, ever constant and true….” [New English Bible] Then in the last of our two verses today, we find the belief that there is only One True God. See, e.g., Deuteronomy 3.24. You might also find it helpful to see how such words in verses 8-10 of Psalm 86 are found in Barnabas and Paul in Acts 14.14-15. Such faith and trust in God have developed throughout history and whilst each generation will find ways of expressing them, at the heart they remain the same as found in our psalm for today.
Lord, bring us from death to life that we, and the whole world, may always know your compassionate love.