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Surviving the Pit

Finding Help in the Psalms of Lament

There are times when we are in the pit: it might be clinical depression, but it also might be exhaustion, bereavement, stress, betrayal, abandonment, hatred, humiliation, failure, frustration, sickness, facing old age and having those things that we put our trust in stripped away from us, deep disappointment etc.
How does the pit language of the Psalms help us when we are in the pit?
They are also known as the Psalms of lament or the songs of disarray.
The key Psalms are 88, 56, 69, 102
Psalms 40 and 103 are about how God rescued us from the pit

1. The pit as death:
Pit = Sheol. Place of death, of non-being. It is defined by being the place of the non-praise of God.
Psalm 6.5, ‘For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?’
Psalm 30.9, ‘What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?’
[Is 38.18, For Sheol cannot thank you, death cannot praise you; those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for your faithfulness’.]
Psalm 88.10ff, ‘Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?’ 
[Psalm 88 is the pit Psalm]

When the Psalmist speaks of being close to the pit, he is saying that he is close to death (either because of illness, or his enemies threaten him with death). 
But the pit is also seen to be the place of divine judgement, of God forsakenness. It is the place where God is not.

2. The pit as a particular experience:

The historical titles are almost certainly added in later, but they do recognise that many of the Psalms will have been initially grounded in a concrete experience (see chart of David's life experiences - the peaks and pits - with those Psalms which have titles that relate to particular incidents in his life).

Similar to experience of Jeremiah: Jer 38:6, ‘So they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Malchiah, the kings son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. Now there was now water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sunk in the mud’ 

Jesus in prison: St Peter Gallicantu, Jerusalem. On site of High Priest’s house, with its cells below. Probably the place where Jesus was imprisoned. The deepest cell, which was accessible only by a hole in the ceiling, has a book in which Psalm 88 is written in 50 different languages. 
3. The pit as a universal experience. 
Piper on Ps 40, being in the pit: ‘So perhaps what we are to imagine is falling into a well and sinking deep in the sludge at the bottom and going deeper every time we try to lift a foot and then all of a sudden there is roaring water coming from somewhere and it rushes around us in the dark. And then comes the sense of helplessness and desperation, and all of a sudden air, just air, is worth a million dollars, worth more than all the cars in Michigan and all the cabins in Minnesota. Helplessness, desperation, apparent hopelessness, the breaking point for the overworked businessman, the outer limits of exasperation for the mother of three constantly crying children, the impossible expectations of too many classes in school, the grinding stress of a lingering illness, the imminent attack of a powerful enemy. It is good that we don't know what the experience was. It makes it easier to see ourselves in the pits with the king. Anything that causes a sense of helplessness and desperation and threatens to ruin life or take it away—that is the king's pit’
As a curate, in my second year I began to get panic attacks. Those dark hours. Not being able to pray. Lessons for me. 
a) learning to breathe properly. 
b) praying: Jesus prayer was all I could manage: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner'.
c) learning that it is not about what I can do. I had turned prayer into a work.
d) reading the Psalms. 

And when you do go through hell, and maybe you can’t pray, try to simply say the Lord’s prayer (as an act of obedience) and to read the Psalms or simply stick with one of the verses from the Psalms. 

Read the Psalms, learn the Psalms: they touch the deepest of our emotions
The story of the sister who lived in a religious community where they read 50 Psalms a day. 'Isn't it boring?' She answered, 'Of course it is boring. But that is not the point. It is not about me, but him'. By repeating the Psalms, the language of the Psalms (of relating everything to God, of hungering for God) becomes our language. The Psalms are both expressive of our experience and transformative. 

How do the Psalms of lament help us when we are in the pit?

1. They are profoundly honest

Psalm 88:4f  ‘I am counted like those who go down to the pit; I am like those who have no help, like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave’
V6ff: ‘You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves’
Psalm 40:1, ‘He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog ..’ [cf story of Jeremiah]
Psalm 6:6-7, ‘I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with weeping. My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.’
Psalm 13:1f, ‘How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?’  
Psalm 18:4 (a psalm on the day of deliverance), ‘The cords of death encompassed me, the torrents of perdition assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me’.
Psalm 22:1 ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
Psalm 31:12f, ‘I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many – terror all around! – as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life’
Psalm 38.8, ‘I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart’
Psalm 55:4f, ‘My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me, Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me’. 
Psalm 69:1, ‘Save me O God for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched.’ 
Psalm 102:4-6, ‘My heart is stricken and withered like grass; I am too wasted to eat my bread. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my skin. I am like an owl of the wilderness, like a little owl of the waste places.’ 
Psalm 130.1 ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.’ 

2. They relate everything to God
Not afraid to see their OWN suffering as divine discipline: ‘O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath’ (Ps 6.1)
He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days’ (Ps 102.23)
How long, O Lord, will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?' (Ps 89.46)
You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water;  .. (Ps 66.12)
How long – will you forget me for ever (Ps 13)
 ‘Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?’ (Ps 44.23f)

But this is good news. It means that the answer to our pit situation is God.  Prayer.

3. They are not afraid of expressing anger or demanding justice
It is far better to speak our anger to God and to cry out to him for justice than for us to take matters into our own hands. Look at the so-called imprecatory psalms (eg. Ps 69.22-28; Ps 137)

4. They speak of the presence of God in the pit. 
‘You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your battle. Are they not in your record?’ (Ps 56:9) 
The pit as the meeting place with God.
The importance of Holy Saturday - Christ in the grave with us.
cf the icon of the baptism.

5. They wait on the promises of God.
Hope. Trust. Waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. 
Psalm 13:5 ‘But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation’
Psalm 56:10 ‘In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust: I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?’
Psalm 69:30, ‘I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving’.
6. They praise God as an act of faith (the denial of Sheol)
Psalm 69:34, ‘Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.’

If God does not save us, then the pit is our destiny. 
But God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus (and the Psalms are the prayer book of Jesus ), rescues us from the Pit (Ps 40, 103)

The testimony of Nini, when he was in solitary confinement in prison after a fight.
From the Lowest Pit: I started reading Lamentations.  Pues on Lam 3:55 it says, “I called on your name from the lowest pit.”  I was just thinking about in Jeremiah 38 when he was in the dungeons he probably felt like how we feel, crying to God, “Why me?” and just beating ourselves up.  Me entiendes?
Dude I am going on in Lamentations and this whole chapter is f….  beautiful bro.  You gotta read it. He like cries how I do, kinda blaming God for algo, like he or I feel left on stuck. And then he gives gracias to him after crying it all out.  Kinda like me.  I’ll blame him for C. bouncing on me, but after all my pain is out, I’ll apologize or thank him for the strength.  I am gonna re-read Jeremiah again. There is more there for me to pick out. 







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