Psalm 116 – Saved From the Death Spiral

Psalm 116 Bible With Tony's Chocolonely Milk Chocolate with Caramel and Sea Salt

Today’s Chocolate: Tony’s Chocolonely Milk Chocolate with Caramel and Sea Salt

Today’s PassagePsalm 116

Image Credit: Wolfram Math World

In junior high, my dad introduced me to Archimedes’ spiral, or the “goat on a rope.” If you take a compass and draw a line where the distance of your pencil from the center point equals the angle between your compass and the x-axis, you get this line. Or to put it in mathematical terms, it’s the polar coordinate equation r = θ. My dad told me that life is like Archimedes’ spiral: as you live and grow, you keep coming back to similar points in your life, but further out on the spiral. Say you’ve read a psalm before, and then you read it again. The second time around, you’re reading it on a more distant loop on the spiral. It’s a new experience–but it’s similar to the old one.

That’s where our unnamed psalmist is today. To relate Brueggemann’s classifications to the spiral, the psalmist’s been around an inner loop of orientation. He’s been thrust into a second loop of disorientation, faced with death and fear: “The cords of death encompassed me and the terrors of Sheol came upon me; I found distress and sorrow” (116:3). Life was not what he expected; confronted by insurmountable pain, anxiety, and his own mortality, he did the only thing he knew how to. He cried out to God, and God rescued him.

As humans, we don’t love someone for no reason. People have to give us a motivation to love them–and God knows we’re wired that way. The psalmist starts his song, “I love the Lord, because He hears my voice and my supplications” (116:1). He’s not going to give his love to a deity who brings him into the disorientation loop and leaves him there. He comes out into a loop of new orientation on the spiral, and he tells us, “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yes, our God is compassionate” (116:5). But God must show himself compassionate before the psalmist will write the song.

Having told the story of his near-death experience, he spends the second half of his song answering his own question: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” (116:12). God has earned his gratitude; God has demonstrated himself worthy of love and worship. And I could say plenty about the specific ways that the psalmist expresses that love for God in word and deed. But what if we’re not there?

What if we’re not in the same place as the psalmist by the end of the psalm? Many of us still suffer, and there is no shortage of us on the brink of death right now. Some are discouraged, some are bitter, some are still waiting for God to prove himself compassionate. I wish I had something better to help you out of the disorientation loop, and I know that in all probability I’ll be joining you in your sector before too long as I keep walking outward along the spiral. But all I’ve got right now are the same words that the psalmist offers: “Then I called upon the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I beseech You, save my life!'” (116:4). If you haven’t asked him yet, ask him to rescue you from your pain, your own sliver of death lodged in your soul; ask him to show himself worthy of your love. Chuck that Hail Mary toward the end zone and pray that God catches it. And if he doesn’t, and the game’s not over, and you find yourself on a new down with the football still in your hands and the offensive line converging on you? Don’t give up. Pray for help and chuck it again.

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