(NIV) 1 Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
3 My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?
4 Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
Who praises you from the grave?
6 I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.
8 Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the Lord has heard my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.
A Psalm for the Sick
According to Dr. Craig Broyles, this Psalm is written for those who are going through a time of sickness. This is evidenced by the language, to feel faint, bones in agony, deep anguish, etc.
If that is the case, it raises several questions: 1) What does sickness have to do with enemies and evil-doers? And 2) Is sickness a form of punishment/discipline from God? Should we assume that a person’s ailment is the result of sin in their life?
First, in this context, the foes/enemies should probably not be considered enemies in the strongest sense, but rather those who cast judgment, isolate, or oppose the sick person on the assumption that the sickness is due to some sin or evil. God’s answer to the prayer of the sick will result in their shame as they turn back, while the one who is ill will be vindicated.
Have you ever experienced this? Has anyone ever judged you as one under God’s wrath as an explanation for your sickness?
Secondly, we get the impression that God might use sickness as a means of discipline, based on the Psalmist’s initial appeal: “Do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.” But the Psalm also implies that not all sickness is a form of discipline. How are we to think about such matters? Perhaps we can take our cue from the Psalm. The Psalmist gives three bases for an appeal: Our suffering condition, God’s unfailing love, and our purpose / God’s glory.
The Psalmist appeals to God for mercy and then describes his suffering as a basis. That means that the author assumes that God’s nature is NOT one that stands aloof or indifferent to our pain. When God’s children are in agony, God cares.
Next, the Psalmist appeals to God for deliverance on the basis of God’s unfailing love. Often when we suffer, we naturally ask whether or not God loves us. “If God really loved me, He wouldn’t let bad things happen to me,” we might say. In response to this impulse, the Psalm leads us to draw on what we know about God. The exodus from Egypt, God’s covenant with Abraham, and for us as Christians, the cross. These are ultimate and definitive statements of love that cannot be retracted. Whatever the reason for your suffering may be, we can know that it is NOT because God doesn’t love you. We can know that because He Himself entered into your pain and suffered with you and for you.
Finally, the Psalmist appeals to the Lord on the basis of his own purpose for existence: God’s glory. Essentially the logic goes something like this: “If I am dead, I can’t praise you nor give glory to your name. And just look at me now! Instead of praising I am overcome with groaning and weeping, etc.” While we are certainly capable of giving God praise from a position of illness, there are some profound implications here. Namely, the reason we exist is to give glory/praise to God, and to proclaim Him to the nations. Sickness may impair our ability to do this, and if death is the opposite of life, and life is for the glory of The Lord’s Name, then certainly death puts a halt on our ability to function according to our created purpose.
I think that is a key takeaway from this Psalm for me: Life is for the praise and glory of God. Which means that to not praise Him with my life is to live in death. When I live in such a way that brings no glory and worship to Him, I live as one who is ill unto death.
“If I am healthy, yet do not live my life in a way that brings praise to God, I am not healthy.”
In his book The Sickness Unto Death, Soren Kierkegaard writes that God allows us to experience despair (the sickness unto death) if that is what it takes to discover the emptiness of a life apart from worship to God.
If we return to our question: “Is my sickness a form of punishment/discipline from God?” We probably will never know for certain in this life, but we can know a few things, that 1) God cares about your pain, 2) whatever the reason for your sickness, it cannot mean He doesn’t love you, and 3), if God is using illness as a means of discipline, it can only mean that there is a far more deadly illness inside you that God is trying to cure – potentially using your situation to do so. If we are using our healthy bodies in such a way as to dishonor Him or give glory where it isn’t due, then we are already colluding with death, because praising Him is life. Let this time of illness be an opportunity to examine yourself and your life’s priorities and purpose. Appeal to God for healing on the basis of His mercy, and worship Him with the life and health you now have.
“Father, I want to pray for anyone who may be reading this who is ill. I pray that they would be healed, and I appeal to you for mercy, knowing that you care about our pain. I pray to you for deliverance, based on your steadfast love. Finally, I pray that this sickness would not be in vain, but would serve as a reminder that our lives are for your glory. Someday it will all be stripped away, so let us not use our healthy bodies as an excuse to walk in spiritual sickness. Thank you for your grace, shown to us through your Son Jesus. It is in His name that I pray, Amen.”