“He lifted me out of the pit of death, out of the mud and filth, and set my feet on solid rock. He steadied my legs.”
Psalm 40:2 (Common English Bible)
Here is a life that many of us understand. Life is characterized as being a “pit of death – a life of mud and filth.” This poignant description betrays that present circumstances did not simply fall upon the one who speaks. “Mud and filth” are not the consequence of disadvantage, not the result of some disaster or illness that comes without personal consent. Rather, this decay of a personal experience of life has been fashioned by intentional choices, one bad choice following another. Perhaps the choices made were hesitant at first, slow and then questioned. But once a descent into careless living began, movement became more swift and confident. Delight in drinking, or gambling, or immoral behavior brought increasing pleasure.
Then comes the collapse of all self-worth, a reckoning of the internal depravity that begins to reveal itself in physical appearance and behavior. The face can no longer hide the ruin of the interior life. Others clearly see the writing of the unfortunate choices written upon the man or woman. The signs of rot and disorder grow stronger, clearer. Any good or decency that remains continues to diminish until it is nearly smothered as the tyranny of the immoral life assumes command. The individual – both body and soul – once a sweet habitation of all that is good, decent, and holy now entertains what is corrupt and evil. Choices, once deliberate, now are in control. The man or woman is now held hostage in a “pit of death.”
Then comes a cry for help. What once was pleasurable has become agony – what once was pursued has become a master. The cry of desperation is made to Almighty God. Some years ago when my daughter, Rachael, was quite young I overheard her telling other little girls her faith story. With four other sets of eyes mesmerized by the narrative that flowed from her libs I heard, “I was a slave girl in Egypt and Pharaoh was so mean to me. But my God is bigger than Pharaoh and God came one day, beat Pharaoh up, and brought me home.” For a four-year-old girl, this was her understanding of the Exodus story she had heard from her father so many times. The message was clear and certain. She could count on God.
The one who shares this faith story in Psalm 40 knows they can count on God. A cry of desperation is made to Almighty God to come, overwhelm the master that holds them captive in “a pit of death” and to bring them home. The cry may be made at the eleventh hour but God comes. God comes without ridicule, without mockery, or taunts of “I told you so.” God simply comes. From the place of captivity of whatever enslavement, whatever addiction that holds a grip upon the man or woman, the hand of God appears. That hand is stronger. Once more, the enslaved is brought home. His or her feet are set on solid ground, strength is returned to the legs and life is steadied. A nightmare of horrible dreams ends.