My Sunday School class is studying the Psalms of Ascents and this morning we arrived at Psalm 123.
123 A Song of Ascents.
1 To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.
3 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4 Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.
A book we are using to supplement our studies is Erik Routley's Ascent to the Cross. In this little book, Routley considers how Jesus may have appropriated these pilgrim psalms on his final journey up to Jerusalem. I neglected to re-read Routley's thoughts on Psalm 123 prior to teaching this morning but I did so this afternoon and found this gem of counsel on spiritual depression.
It is relatively easy to turn trustfully to God in the heat of a straight fight; even more so, after a fight has been brought to a successful conclusion in the enemy's defeat.... But it is another thing when you are exhausted and frustrated; it is an even worse thing when you know that the people to whom you are trying to talk are being subtly brainwashed by the purveyors of secular and trivial values. Christians all over the world are indeed exceedingly filled with the contempt of the proud.
You can always say, in a vague romantic way, that the answer to depression and anxiety, the endemic diseases of a sophisticated civilization, is ‘trust in God’. The answer you will get from an honest man in distress is ‘Yes, but that is just what I can’t do: if I could, I wouldn’t be depressed and anxious’. I heard with some pleasure a sardonic remark from a distinguished minister who was speaking at a university mission. ‘When I meet some radiant Christians,’ he said, ‘I am convinced of the case for the morose Christian.’ There can be something dreadfully heartless about eupeptic Christianity.
Of course, it can do us good, in times of depression, to repeat the words of the saints, to take to ourselves the great affirmations of those who have found the way even when we cannot pretend to have found it ourselves. Do not allow an over-valuing of ‘sincerity’ to prevent you from doing this when it is the only thing to do. This is not hypocrisy. It is the admission that you can’t swim strongly enough to beat the current and that you need a lifebelt.
But our Lord goes further than this…. The way from men to God was barred, as it were, by the devil, by sin, by grievance, by a settled assumption that God disliked humanity and would disappoint its hopes of happiness. The way to heaven must be cleared, the rusty gate opened. He must open it, and this could not be done merely by telling us that it was open. What he preached and taught must be acted out in history.
Therefore he must draw off towards himself all this poison that is corrupting our conversation with God. He must so place himself that the despitefulness of the proud will have its way with him. He must throw himself, as a servant, into the hands of mankind, his master. He must utterly trust us with himself, commit his destiny to us, give himself away to us. He must ‘empty himself’ of his divinity, and become obedient, even if that meant death at our hands. All this—to show us that when we are told that God has made a covenant with us, expecting us to act as people whom he trusts and respects, that statement is literally true and not merely something in a hymn book.