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Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD... Psalm 130.1

The penultimate Penitential Psalm is 130. Its title reveals that it is a Song of Ascents. This means that it was among the repertoire of pilgrims making their way up to Jerusalem for one of the three great annual festivals which took place at the temple. The adverbial preposition "up" is important because it expresses one of the fluctuations of our mood which, in turn, reflects our traditional spatial understanding of heaven being "up there" and hell being "down there".

All of us have experienced the anguish of being in the "depths of despair", which is where we find the composer of Psalm 130. The question is: what shall we do? Options range from wallowing in self-pity to pulling ourselves together and trying to climb out. The trouble is that sometimes we find ourselves unequal to the task. Revealing their faith in the mercy and power-to-save of Almighty God, the Psalmist turns their predicament into a prayer for divine aid... and so begins their escape.

We understand, from verse 3 and the reference to "iniquities", that the cause of suffering here is self-inflicted - the result of the Psalmist's own sin. That does not prevent them from appealing to God. Sometimes people harbour the mistaken impression that God's intolerance of sin renders him harsh on the sinner. Scripture reveals the opposite to be true: that God goes out of his way to be merciful to sinners. Indeed that is what brought God to earth and took Jesus to the cross!



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