I suppose that by definition a Song of Ascent doesn’t start on the mountaintop. To ascend, one must commence from a low place: a lowland valley perhaps, or at least the shoulder of the mountain. Yet at the start of Psalm 130, the author isn’t ascending. He is drowning. Drowning, and sinking down – deep, down where all is dark and cold and seemingly both helpless and beyond help.
It’s a fearful thing, that sense that you are drowning. Panic takes hold, the heart pounds, and fear rules as the waters close over you and everything starts to go black. So you kick and splash and scream with a raging and reckless desperation. Neither dignity nor shame matter. There is only grasping at the hopeless hope of survival, because you can only be saved if someone hears you and comes from above to rescue you.
I recall one April morning when I tipped a canoe in the snow swollen Pemigewasset River. In spite of a life jacket, I barely kept my head out of the frigid water as waves and rocks sent me tumbling. Just as the full seriousness of my situation began to sink in, I was able to splash my way to the shore. I felt that fear then.
Much later in life, I found myself at the edge of a personal crisis brought on by business breakdown, financial failure and the threat of ruined relationships. I was in danger of losing the most important things in my life. About all I could do was cry out to God, even as I watched myself going under. I was a drowning watchman.
At that moment someone came to me to remind me that God does not keep an account book of our iniquities. In place of tallies, sums, and balance sheets, God stamps “FORGIVEN” on the page of our lives, in the red ink of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of Christ, we can be sure that God hears our cries. Because of Christ, God’s redemption is indeed plentiful. In Christ, God has demonstrated his steadfast love.
I was not instantly dry after crawling out of the river, but I was safe. Likewise, I lived with the results of my life crisis for years after the worst was over – indeed, I’m still living with it, still pulling barnacles out of my britches. But because of the grace and mercy available through Jesus Christ, I knew that I have never been utterly lost.
So I understand the strange thing the psalmist says, “…there is forgiveness that you may be feared.” The rescued certainly feels a kind of awe for the rescuer. Forgiveness wielded like this is fearsome in its beauty. Accusations (“You got yourself into this…”) create defiance. Indictments (“It’s your fault…”) generate defensiveness. Unexpected and extravagant mercy engenders gratitude so profound that fear might not be too strong a word. Ordinary fear paralyzes and kills. The mercy of God causes a holy fear that frees us, gives us life and raises us up to high and holy places.
And so our redemption is indeed plentiful. Praise God for his steadfast love.
- David Denis
Community Church of Sandwich, Center Sandwich and their pastor Marshall Davis
Third Baptist Church, Center Strafford and their pastor Harold Muzzey
Region Staff: Kathleen Blackey, Media Coordinator