Friday, July 15, 2022
The comedic author Erma Bombeck once wrote a book entitled: “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits.” It’s a funny play on words using “the pits” as the antithesis of the good life. The “pits” she’s talking about are not really cherry pits, those things you spit out after you have eaten the deliciously sweet cherry, but the pits of despair. Webster’s Dictionary defines “the pits”: “something that is very bad or unpleasant. You caught the flu on your birthday? That’s the pits! This rainy weather is the absolute pits.”
You’re in the pits when things are going horribly wrong, or when you are feeling low. You feel low when you are depressed, like there is something heavy weighing down on you.
Psalm 130 is known as a penitential psalm (Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143). It starts out very low, “Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD”. This person is in deep despair because they are weighed down by feelings of guilt. They have done something terribly wrong and they are weighed down with the heaviness of regret.
In the Bible there are stories of people who are down in the pits of despair who cry out to God. When Joseph was taken by his brothers and thrown into a dry cistern down in the earth, he was in the pit. When Jonah was swallowed by the whale (or great fish), he was in the pit. When Daniel was thrown into the den of lions he was in the pit. But each of these people when they were in the pit cried out to God. And that’s what this Psalm writer does from the depths, they cry to God. They cry for mercy.
They acknowledge that it is only by God’s mercy that they are able to get out of that pit. If God kept a perpetual record of our sins that we had to carry around with us all of our lives none of us could stand under the weight. Imagine trying to swim holding a 100 lb barbell in your hands… you would sink to the bottom in an instant.
Psalm 130 is also one of the songs of ascents. This selection of Psalm from Psalm 120-134 were sung by worshippers journeying to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God by offering sacrifices. They would sing the songs of ascents as they climbed up Mt. Zion. They would sing them as they walked up the steps to the temple bringing with them their sin offering, their guilt offering and other reminders of their need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Notice as the Psalm begins they are “in the depths crying for mercy” lamenting that no one can stand in God’s presence as long as God remembers their sins. But feel them rising up as they get closer to the top of the mountain, closer to Jerusalem, closer to the temple, closer to God. There is the hope of forgiveness. There is this longing for God, they are waiting with their whole being for God, they are putting their hope in God. As they look up and draw closer to God they are literally coming up from out of the pits, out of the depths of misery and despair into God’s mercy and forgiveness into the arms of God’s unfailing love and full redemption. They are being bought from slavery to sin and given freedom in God.
So many people today, like this Psalmist, are in the pits. The rates of depression are incredibly high. A study in 2020 showed that 37 million Americans take anti-depressant medication (the numbers undoubtedly have gone up in the 2 years since then due to Covid lockdowns). Over 100,000 people died in 2021 from opioid/fentanyl overdoses. People take these pain killers not for physical pain but to try to relieve existential pain and despair. Suicide rates are rising because people find themselves in the pits and can’t find a way out.
Psalm 130 says to them and to us…. Look up, there is a way out. God is the way out of that pit of despair. God rescued Joseph from the pit and he became the most powerful man in all of Egypt and saved his whole family from starvation. God rescued Jonah from the pit of the whale and Jonah preached salvation to the entire city of Nineveh and they were restored to God. God closed the mouths of the lions and Daniel was rescued by God from the pit of lions. Even Jesus was in the pit of despair on the cross from which he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as he took the total weight of the sin of the world on his shoulders. God rolled back the stone and rescued Jesus from the pit of the tomb and brought him out to everlasting life.
There is no pit too deep for God to bring you out of if you will cry out to him, look up and move toward him. Ascend from the depths of despair to God’s mercy and forgiveness and true life through faith in Jesus Christ.
1. When was a time that you were in the pits? How did God help you out of that pit?
2. If you’ve experienced God’s saving hand in the pit, who can you share that hope with to help them out of the pit?