The day our cat died our daughter changed her Facebook status to “starting over from the end of the world.”
I turned to Psalm 143.
A Psalm of David. Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled. – Psalm 143:1-4
Admittedly missing a beloved pet is not a tragedy on the scale of losing a son in war, a daughter to a crazed gunman on a college campus, or a spouse to a sudden illness. So my grief is tinged with a blush of shame of knowing she was only a cat after all. But then all death results from the brokenness of our fallen world, and it hurts.
We sometimes think the successful Christian simply avoids life’s pitfalls. If we only walk carefully enough, sidestepping that mistake and swerving around that landmine, all would be fine. But Psalm 143 does not view life as a carefully executed path of avoiding problem crevices. Rather the Psalmist describes a stampede roaring behind him, threatening to crush him, which no amount of thoughtful organization can hold at bay. The problem is too big and the enemy (sin and death) is too awful (Psalm 143:3-4)
So what’s a cat-lover to do?
David’s first step in Psalm 143 was to deliberately review God’s past concrete actions.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. – Psalm 143:5
I consider my “days of old”, like how God used our cat’s two-week disappearance to bring our daughter to saving faith. David’s recollection moved him from the hopelessness of the grave to the dryness of the desert, which at least promises the possibility of rain and restored life.
I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah – Psalm 143:6
However, for most of us, theology alone does not make us emotionally whole, relationally secure, or optimistically cheerful. Theology is only a first step.
The next step is refusing to pretend a broken life is fine. In Psalm 143 David does this by pleading with God to act, and laying alongside each plea an honest statement about his doubts, faith and fears.
Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge!
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! – Psalm 143:7-10
The images move from the utter darkness of the tomb (verse 3), to the desert (verse 6), to the morning light (verse 8), to expecting the Lord to lead him on level ground (verse 10). But faced with an empty cat bed, I wonder how David took that first step out of darkness.
As David acknowledges his failures and pleads for God’s intervention, he clings to his faith in God’s willingness and power to deliver him from sin and death. And that exercise of faith pushes him from the pit to level ground.
This is a long process, much longer than it takes to read verses 7-10. Applying God’s healing truth often take months or more. I’m also not suggesting that if you meditate on Psalm 143 long enough you will never be depressed again. It is not a magic panacea, and for some kinds of depression you ought to seek medical or professional advice.
But this Psalm can help in those times when we realize anew the depths of our selfishness or when tragedies knock us flat. While this Psalm describes that dark black pit of living in a world ruled by sin and death, it also shines the light of who God is and what God has done for us.
Which demonstrates greater love: dying for your child or your enemy? Obviously, it takes greater love to die for your enemy, especially if he scoffs and mocks, calling your sacrifice worthless. Jesus already demonstrated that greater love.
We were enemies of God, under God’s wrath. We deserved no more love from God than a Jew would give Hitler. Yet, at that point — while we were his enemies, mocking his sacrifice – Jesus died for us.
He’s already demonstrated the greater, harder love. So now that we’re adopted into his family, of course he won’t abandon us. David reaches this conclusion at the end of Psalm 143.
For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.- Psalm 143:11-12
David realized another healing truth through this process: not only is he guilty and in need of the God’s grace, he can also say with equal certainty, “I am your servant.” He will win this war with sin and death because he belongs to God. He can be just as confident of God’s love as he is of his sins. True, we don’t deserve God’s grace, but we can be count on it. That’s our point of hope.
As certain as I am that I’m a wretch and as often as sin crushes me, I also cling to the fact that I belong to the Lord. “I am his servant.” He has promised us the day will come when He will wipe away every tear, right every wrong, and make all things new.
We will in fact start over from the end of the world, and it will be glorious.