There are days I feel like a worn-out piece of clothing, worse for wear but not ready to be thrown away just yet. Like everyone and everything on this earth, I am getting older and with that territory comes a certain amount of wear and tear. I struggle with indigestion. Me, whose favorite lunch used to be melted cheese on chips with jalapeno peppers and who used hot sauce in place of ketchup! My iron gut has been replaced with a finicky one that is unpredictable and keeps me awake at night. It seems I have this in common with the writer of Psalm 102 who has plenty of reasons for feeling worn-out.
Psalm 102 is an individual lament comprised of three sections. He starts by recounting all his suffering and asking God, where are you? What are you doing? Why are you hiding? “Hear my prayer, O Lord, let my cry come to you! Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!” (1-2)
He feels like he’s on fire. “For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.” (3) He appears to be suffering from an intestinal problem, “My heart is smitten like grass, and withered; I forget to eat my bread. Because of my loud groaning my bones cleave to my flesh.” (4-5) He is not eating and is wasting away.
Besides this, he is alone in his misery and can’t sleep. He describes himself as a pelican in the desert–a water fowl that is out of its natural habitat–and a lonely bird on a housetop: one that has lost its mate. “I am like a pelican of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake, I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.” (6-7)
His enemies taunt him, “All the day my enemies taunt me, those who deride me use my name for a curse.” (8) Unlike Job who was innocent of wrong doing, he recognizes his need to repent. “For I eat ashes like bread, and mingle tears with my drink . . . My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.” (9, 11) He feels like God has thrown him away, “For you have taken me up and thrown me away.” (10b)
In the second section the writer recalls the greatness of the Lord and expresses his trust that God will build up Zion. “For the Lord will build up Zion, he will appear in his glory; he will regard the prayer of the destitute, and will not despise their supplication.” (16-17) Amidst his despair he is able to step back and look at the bigger picture, look at the God of history; how God has saved Zion as a nation and will save Zion.
Then he returns to his own situation. “He has broken my strength in mid-course, he has shortened my days. ‘O my God,’ I say, ‘Take me not hence in the midst of my days, you whose years endure throughout all generations!’” (23-24)
He recognizes that all of the works of God’s hands will perish for God wears them like clothing. “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment. You change them like raiment, and they pass away.” (25-26)
But while everything else passes away, God is forever. The writer takes comfort in knowing his children and their children after them will continue to dwell in the security of God. “But you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their posterity shall be established before you.” (27-28)
When dealing with personal trials and suffering, it can help to step back and look at the big picture, the way the psalmist does. He is still suffering, but stepping back gave him perspective that helps make his suffering manageable. He recognizes that all of creation wears away, only God is forever. So, just as clothing wears away and is replaced, he, too, will be replaced by the next generation. He takes comfort in this knowledge.
The Hebrew community did not have an understanding of the afterlife that we have through Jesus, so he takes comfort in the community continuing on. He would rather not be afflicted and cut off in mid-life, but knowing that is the course of all flesh makes it a little easier.
As for me, I would much rather maintain full strength and health until the end of my days, but that is not for me to decide. As Paul tells us, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pain until now.” (Rom. 8:22) “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” (Rom. 8:18) And so my own struggles are easier to bear when put in a broader context.
What about you? How do you handle the trials God sends your way? Have you ever felt cast off by God?