In the first post in this two-part series, I showed how the Psalms—in particular, Psalm 102—give us permission to lament and models for doing so. Life often overwhelms the Christian, and a biblical response is to lament. But the response is not just lament, full stop. Beyond mere lament, Psalm 102 provides hopeful perspective by looking to God.

This perspective is provided in Psalm 102 as it moves from verse 11 to verse 12 and reveals a blessed contrast. What the psalmist needs is for God to reach down with one of His long arms, take his hand, and lift up his chin. This is the answer to his distress, his depression, his discouragement: to cast his eyes on God and His ways.

Searching for Permanence

The blessed contrast in verse 12 between the psalmist and God is striking: God is “enthroned forever . . . remembered throughout all generations.”

In verses 1–11, the psalmist feels as if he is caught in a meaningless passage of time. “Days,” “smoke,” “shadows”—all these he uses to describe his experience, and they all have one thing in common: they pass.

In verses 12–22, the psalmist receives consolation through meditating on God and the fact that He is the master of time (v. 13). It is as if he leads with the frailty of life only to set in relief the eternity of God, that He stands outside of the transience of life, even commandeering it for His purposes. For the psalmist, reality indeed has solidity insofar as God stands behind it.

In another psalm, Psalm 121, the psalmist muses: “I lift my eyes to the hills, From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Why does the psalmist look to the hills, to the mountains? What do mountains have to do with the psalmist’s call for help?

My family and I recently went to the mountains of western North Carolina. What’s striking is everything that surrounded us there reflects change except one thing—the mountains themselves. The sun rises and sets. The streams flow and are in constant flux. The leaves change color, die, and fall. But the rocks, the mountains are steady and unchanging (at least to the human eye).

The psalmist is crying out for help, and he is seeking an image of something with permanence, something that can be depended upon: mountains. Indeed, God is called a “rock.” In turning to the Lord, we are provided with something powerful and unchanging—an image that tells us something of Himself, His character, and His purposes.

God Blesses through the Body

It is the purposes of God that are also highlighted here, not His purposes solely focused on the individual psalmist but on the people of God (that is what is symbolized in “Zion”). Isn’t it interesting that as the psalmist transitions from himself to God, the answers for his plight come in the context of God’s purposes for His people? That is, he realizes his well-being is caught up with the well-being of God’s people. Biblical religion is not merely “Jesus and me.” The psalmist sees that he will be blessed through God’s dealings with His people collectively. Through the restoration of the many in the covenant, the one, the individual, finds relief.

God is merciful. “He regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer. . . . [He hears] the groans of the prisoners” (Ps. 102:17, 20). The eternal God is not deaf to the travails of those caught in the thicket of suffering, but as He meets their frailty with His eternal power, He addresses them as a body: “The LORD builds up Zion; he appears in his glory. . . . that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, in Jerusalem [i.e., among the people] his praise” (vv. 16, 21).

Counterintuitive to our Western individualism, it is in the corporate worship of the Lord and in a meditation on His eternal perfections and His condescending mercy that the psalmist receives the divine medicine needed for his woes.

This is the answer to his distress, his depression, his discouragement: to cast his eyes on God and His ways.

Douglas F. Kelly, one of my professors from seminary and my predecessor in teaching systematic theology here at RTS–Charlotte, would often tell us of a priority he built into his ministry. He told us students that when he was in pastoral ministry, he would notice how often individuals who were neglecting corporate worship and the ministry of the Word would come to him asking for counseling. So, he set a condition. He’d agree to meet for counseling only after those requesting it attended three straight Sundays of services, morning and evening, for corporate worship is the primary place where the Word is preached and the Spirit ministers. What he found after those three weeks was that often those who thought they needed counseling no longer needed it. (Of course, he made exceptions to this condition for emergencies and extreme cases.)

Worship is the first and strongest tonic for our souls when we are distressed, because it is there that we meet the mercy of God on His people and meditate on His eternal perfections as we praise Him, pray, and hear His Word.

What Psalm 102 presents to us as the process from moving from overwhelmed to overcomer is the process of looking to God in worship.

The Difference Knowing God Makes

Having meditated on God’s eternity and His plan for His people throughout the generations, the psalmist can take his feelings of life slipping through his fingers confidently to God, and that is what he does in Psalm 102:23–28. He finishes with soaring, eloquent words, which are a plea to the One who endures throughout all generations.

These words highlight God’s original work in founding the earth. The heavens may appear permanent, but they, too, must be contrasted with the permanence of God. They will wear out. The people of God find their security, then, not in the passing things of this world, but in the eternal God who created this world.

What’s more, as we learn in the New Testament, we are married to God, in Jesus Christ our bridegroom, for eternity. With respect to our union with Him, divorce is not in God’s vocabulary. We are Christ’s bride, which means if He is forever, we are forever in His loving gaze.

If there were no God, indeed we would be locked into the vortex of this passing world and its woes; but since there is a God and since He is merciful, relief can be found in being established by Him: “The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you” (v. 28).

We must learn to be totally silent before God if we are to realize our utter dependence on Him. Sometimes God will bring great distress into our lives in order to demonstrate that to us, as He does here for the psalmist. Yet, look at the confidence the psalmist has once he knows who His God is. Consider the confidence we can have, knowing everything is assured for us in union with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do we know who our God is? Do we know we can bring all our cares to Him? Do you know He is more than sufficient, both in His eternal power, and in His condescending mercy, to meet us where we are, in our woes, and lift up our chin to see who He is, what He has done for His people, and so therefore provide solidity to our lives?

A Biblical View of Emotions

It often appears that we live in a time of emotional anarchy, with nothing to hem in or provide shape for our amorphous emotions. People have forgotten what to do with them. Social media testifies to this by the minute.

In this chaotic atmosphere, we actually lose the handles, the contours, the wisdom that would enable us to know true sorrow or true joy. It is for this reason that I annually assign Augustine’s Confessions to my seminary students. I think more than any other Christian author, Augustine models a biblical view of emotions—a view that acknowledges a true range to the feelings we experience in the Christian life.

I believe Augustine does this insofar as he was immersed in the Psalms. Augustine had learned emotional maturity, a godly emotional life, from the psalmists. We see such emotional maturity in Psalm 102. In the midst of great distress, there is not a reckless binge, an irresponsible gush fest, nor hopeless foreboding.

There is a fierce honesty and candor, yes, but it is ultimately thrown onto God. The Psalms teach us to always throw ourselves and our circumstances onto God—and find in Him and His ways the balm for our souls.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 29, 2020.

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