Randy “Duke” Cunningham had a stellar resume. Cunningham is a decorated veteran of Vietnam where he served his country with honor flying through the dangerous skies of hostile territory. For eight terms, he served in the United States House of Representatives, serving on the House intelligence committee and the appropriations sub-committee that controls defense spending.
His career came to screeching halt on November 28, 2005. He stood before a judge who asked him if he had accepted bribes to award millions of dollars of jobs for defense contractors. He simply said, “Yes, your honor.” On the verge of weeping, Cunningham said, “I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family.”[i] Regardless what Cunningham accomplished in life, his journey will be marred by this great downfall into a pit of his own making.
There are times on our journey as pilgrims that we falter. We become distracted by the glitz of sin and forget about the glory and grace of God. This psalm speaks to us when we are in the pits of sin’s consequence.[ii]
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:1–4, ESV)
As we journey together on our pathway to the presence of God, we need to have hope that our failure is not fatal or final. We need to find the way out of our distress. The pilgrim helps us to see the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord as that pathway of hope.
The depths of distress
The psalmist was in trouble. He had fallen into a pit of despair out of which he could find no way. Surrounded by dark, ominous waters of chaos, he was quickly losing hope. He was sinking deeper and deeper into distress, despair, and depression.[iii]
Many things can propel us into the chaotic confusion of the “depths.” Relationships can sour. Our bank account can flounder. Sickness can invade our bodies or our homes. But here in this psalm, the chaos was created by sin. It is not a series of circumstance that creates the despair. It is the sin that the pilgrim has chosen to follow. He is in the pit because he took a detour through the slime of sin and fell headlong into the dark hole of despair.
As we make our journey to the summit of God’s presence, sin propels us into the depths of distress and despair. In those moments, self-help strategies won’t work. When sin is our struggle, there is no help but in God. So, we must join the psalmist and cry out to God from the bottom of the hole.[iv]
Our hope for help
When I have blown it, I need help. We’re on this journey, and we choose to go down a path of our own making. The path leads us to the depths of distress, because we’ve taken a journey apart from God’s will. So, we’re crushed by the weight of our separation from God because we’ve chosen sin instead of obedience. Our only hope for help is from the grace of God’s hand. We can’t help ourselves, but God can help us, even though there is nothing in us that deserves His help. He is our only hope.[v]
So we must plead for God’s forgiveness with a heart of humility and repentance. We must seek the forgiveness of God. God has forgiveness for those who come to Him with urgency. When we seek His forgiveness, we need to look eagerly for the work of God. The psalmist calls the congregation to look eagerly for the Lord’s work of mercy in their lives.
Our hope for help demands that we cling to the promises of God. The psalmist indicates that his personal pathway out of the pit is not an emotional pursuit or an intellectual ascent. It is the hope found in the promises of God that energizes forgiveness when repentance is on our hearts.
Today, our hope for help out of the “depths” is from the powerful and gracious act of a God who loves us and will forgive us when we come to Him in repentance. God’s mercy and grace draws us back to the path of His purpose and plan toward the summit of His presence. Today, we have hope in the depths of hopelessness. God through Jesus Christ has provided forgiveness for our sin and restoration of our joy in His presence.
The psalmist then leads the congregation to pursue a hope that God is ready to help when they falter into the pit of sin. God is faithful to love us. He declares that God has “mercy” for His own. God pays the price for our victory. The psalmist then declares that God will ransom His people. He will pay the price for their victory.
Lord, I cry to You from the depths of distress. Distress I’ve created by my own sin. I ask for forgiveness. I turn from my sin. I long for Your gentle touch and cling to the promise of restoration that You have made. I know that You bring mercy and grace this morning. Thank You, for the love You display in the forgiveness that You purchased through the blood of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my King and my Savior!
[i]Jill Serjeant, “Calif. Rep. resigns over bribes,” Reuters.com (Monday, November 28, 2005).
[ii]Bernhard Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today, 3d ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 88. He notes that the psalmist portrays himself in “the abyss of watery chaos, the realm of the powers of confusion, darkness, and death that are arrayed against the sovereign power of God.” These depths of distress “speak about separation from God that results from human freedom (sin).”
[iii]Patrick Miller, “Psalm 130,” Interpretation 33 (1979): 177. He notes that the image of the waters instills fear and foreboding in the reader. The psalmist was captured “in the depths of despair or the depths of depression.” For a fuller portrayal of the mythic image of “the depths,” see Bernhard Anderson, Out of the Depths, 86. His monograph on the Psalms has been named after this verse.
[iv]Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 104. He notes that the stark reality of verse 1 is that we many times believe that only those who fit the “posture of obedience” in the garments suitable for a king has the right to address Sovereign God. “But this psalm is the miserable cry of a nobody from nowhere. The cry penetrates the veil of heaven! It is heard and received.”
[v]Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 195. The psalmist notes that his iniquities demand a verdict. As Allen puts it, “he has little claim upon God. . . he has proved an unprofitable servant, and the onus of maintaining it [the relationship with God, the master] can now lie only with the Lord.”