Saturday, November 10, 2012

Psalm 102

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 102.  I have three items.

1.  The Psalmist talks about his personal depression, which appears to be leading him to physical sickness.  The Psalmist is lonely, and he is mocked by his enemies.  And yet, Psalm 102 goes beyond the Psalmist's personal suffering and talks about God's restoration of Zion, which entails God hearing the destitute and the nations fearing the LORD.  What do these two themes have to do with one another?  There have been different suggestions: that the Psalmist's personal suffering was misunderstood as a metaphor for the suffering of the nation, and thus the part about God restoring Zion was added; that two Psalms have been mixed together (I think that I encountered that view, but I may be mistaken); that the Psalmist moves from thinking about his own problems to contemplating God's renewal of Zion; and that the Psalmist is an exile who is describing his own problems as an exile, as well as the problems of his exiled nation (as Lamentations 3 focuses on the suffering individual, amidst a book that is about national suffering).

I think that the last solution makes the most sense.  And yet, I find it interesting that the superscription says (in the KJV), "A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD."  It's like Psalm 102 was intended to be a Psalm for any afflicted person, not just one who was suffering exile.  But perhaps the idea behind the superscription is that the Psalmist believes that anyone who is suffering can hope that God's restoration of Zion will take care of one's own problems----the same way that there are many Christians today who look to the Second Coming of Christ as a time when Christ will end or restrain evil and suffering.  Or maybe the Psalmist is trying to comfort himself with the idea that, if God will restore Zion, then God is one who restores in general and thus will take pity on the Psalmist amidst his personal affliction.  Similarly, many Christians today look to God's love to Israel in the Hebrew Bible to convince themselves that God loves them personally.  They believe that God demonstrated to Israel God's character as one who is unconditionally loving, and that Christians can assure themselves that God is unconditionally loving to them, too.

2.  Another issue that I was thinking about when reading Psalm 102 was time.  We see short time and long time in Psalm 102.  In terms of short time, the Psalmist hopes that his deliverance will come soon.  He may even believe that God is already in the process of redeeming his nation, and yet God has not completed that process, for vv 13-22 contain verbs with perfect and imperfect tenses (but the KJV translates many of the perfects in the future tense).  Erhard Gerstenberger dates Psalm 102 to Israel's post-exilic period, a time when a number of Israelites were in their land because they had returned from exile, but they did not feel entirely redeemed, for they still had to deal with enemies and foreign powers.

In terms of long time, the Psalmist takes comfort in God's eternity, perhaps because God's eternity is assurance that God's plans will succeed.  The Psalmist also wants to preserve a message for future people, presumably about God's goodness, and, while the Psalmist fears in v 14 that God has shortened his (the Psalmist's) days, he affirms in v 28 that the children of God's servants will continue.  According to a note in the Jewish Study Bible, the Psalmist has doubts that he will live to see Zion's restoration, but he hopes that his children will see it.

The Psalmist may not have believed in a personal resurrection, and so I have to admire him for thinking about the well-being of future generations, even though he may have felt that he would probably die prematurely and thus not see the restoration.  I can't say that I am at that place spiritually, but people back then did have more of a communal mindset.  Sometimes, though, I think that it is a good idea for me to turn my mind away from myself and onto God's long-term cosmic plans.

3.  I listened to a good sermon on loneliness, which interacted with Psalm 102.  See here.  It was by Michael Phillips of Grace Baptist Church in Fremont, California.  I was in a fairly good (or at least placid) mood when I listened to that sermon, otherwise I probably would have been defensive and angry by some of the things that the preacher was saying.  Overall, though, I thought that he had some thought-provoking insights.  He said that trying to fit in and failing is better than not trying at all, for the latter leads to loneliness.  And he also said that we should look at ourselves to see where we may be at fault----are we unfriendly, for example? I'd say that these are good general guidelines.  Speaking for myself, though, I don't think I'm entirely convinced that being with people is better than being alone, for being around people can be stressful, plus I can get my feelings hurt.  And yet, like most people, I don't want to be lonely, for I want to be loved, valued, and affirmed, and maybe even to love, value, and affirm others.  It's a Catch-22.  One wants affirmation, but one doesn't necessarily get that around people.  And yet, one doesn't get it when one is not around people.

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