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Lenten Reflections: Psalm 38

By Gianluca Cueva

I’m generally a very visual and imaginative individual. I find it easy and helpful to paint pictures in my mind or in the mind of others. Scriptures such as the Gospels, Psalms and Prophets certainly speak to me as they use and incorporate visual images. Unfortunately, I’m also an easily queasy person. It doesn’t take me too long into a “good” E.R. visit story, for me to have to stop the narrator or simply walk away. My mind too quickly visualizes the images, sounds, textures, hues, and smells. As heightened as my imagination can be, so is my sensitivity for the macabre. 

So what am I to do when I read Psalm 38? The Psalm begins by giving us its context: “A Psalm of David, for the memorial offering.” In other words, this takes place in the context of a sin and pleasing offering to God (Lev. 2:2; 5:12). What follows then is David’s explicit, descriptive, and dire expression regarding his sin: “God’s arrows have sunk into him”, there is “no soundness in his flesh”, “no health in his bones”, “his wounds stink and fester”, his “sides are filled with burning”, he is “feeble and crushed”, his “heart throbs”, and he is a “plague”. Can you feel and see the impact that David’s sin has on him? Is it palpable? 

Sometimes I’m tempted to think that David is simply being “dramatic”. I try to reason away his words for flowery language and metaphorical literary tools. But if David is too “dramatic”, I perhaps tend to be too “unaffected” by my sin. I try to stay on the surface of the iceberg, avoiding the deep depths and disgust of my disobedience and rebellion that lie beneath. David will have none of that. He experiences and knows the watery depths that lie beneath. He is not afraid to take the plunge. And it is from this place that David calls out to God: “Do not forsake me, O LORD! O my God, be not far from me.” He knows his God will answer (v. 15). 

As Pastor Steve Gregg said at the start of Lent, this is a season where we take the time to “prayerfully reflect on the reality of our sin, our need for God’s forgiveness, and the gift of our salvation secured for us on the cross.” I think we tend to do better with the latter two but have much to learn from David when it comes to “prayerfully reflecting on the reality of our sin”. And in this psalm, David is our guide. He not only tells us about sin, but shows us. This is what poetry has the ability to uniquely do. We need both prose and poetry to understand the fulness and wretchedness of our sin. For it to engage our head, heart and hands. 

We can follow David this Lent season, because we know Easter is coming. We don’t have to fear the depths of our sin, for God’s grace and love is deeper still. We don’t have to hesitate to dive into the depths of our sin, for our anchor and forgiveness are secure and steady in Him. We don’t have to live under the weight and pressure of our sin, for in Christ we can stand victorious. And no matter how dreadful or disgusting our sin may be, our Jesus and the Gospel are more glorious and beautiful still.