Psalm 6

Sometimes a light surprises

‘Prayers like gravel flung at the sky’s window, hoping to attract the loved one’s attention ....’    [R. S. Thomas]

At the very center of this prayer (vs. 6) we hear of the weariness of the person praying.  Weariness – how descriptive this is of a situation over which we have no control, resources exhausted – we are weary! 

For this psalmist, the entire span of sickness and health is understood in relation to the Lord of life.  No other cause is contemplated and no other relief is sought.  Yet the affliction is not mutely accepted (v.2-5).  It is opposed by prayer!  The poet assumes health and life are God’s ordinary intentions for humanity. 

The prayer supports the petition with three reasons: 

  • First is the intensity of the suffering (v.2,6). The poet believes God is moved by human anguish and responds to helplessness.
  • Second, the steadfast love of God (v.4).
  • Finally, death is final (v.5). Note that the poet is not concerned with his own mere existence.  Rather, the appeal is based on the loss of the praise of God in which God’s ways and works are remembered and named.  Life is for praise of God.  In the ancient Hebrew view, when death comes, praise ends and the relationship with God is ended.  

“This prayer reminds us of the choices we have to make.  Living in a scientific culture, we will think of physical suffering in a way different from ancient Israel.  But choices remain.  Crises of health that threaten life do come.  Situations arise when little is certain.  Do we bracket God out of what happens to us?  Does serious illness remind us of our finitude and fallibility, an occasion for reflection and repentance, and a summons to dependence on God through prayer?  It is unbiblical to see meaning for faith only in positive experiences that can be interpreted as the blessing and favour of God.”  [James Mays]

But then something happens, the tone of the prayer changes.  Perhaps the psalmist has had a conversation with his pastor or a close friend.  He goes home with a sense of confidence that his weeping has been heard.  He is no longer weary!  Joy and vigour return to his life.

William Cowper was one of the most popular English poets of the 18th century.  He was much admired by his contemporaries for his nature poetry which would influence William Wordsworth.  But Cowper also suffered from severe depression.  At one point he was institutionalized in an asylum for the mentally ill.  Then he found a fervent evangelical faith and began to write hymns.  One of his lesser known hymns is ‘Sometimes a light surprises.’ 

Cowper struggled with depression all of his life, but he knew the power of song, and the truth that when heart-change happens it comes as a gift of God.