Psalm 6: Medicine for Our Souls

Most of us probably have memories where experts have disagreed. Several decades ago, I had a fairly severe wound on my back, along with some more significant injuries. The emergency room physicians decided to allow the wound on my back to close on its own. After my more serious injuries were treated, I visited some physical therapists, who carefully opened the wound on my back again to make sure that the medicine came into direct contact with the wound. Psalm 6 is like neither of the psalms we’ve looked at in this column. The psalm is honest and open — more open than we often are in church. Certain questions in this psalm remain unanswered. This psalm, however — along with the rest of God’s Word — is divinely inspired medicine that needs to come into direct contact with our wounded souls.

Verse 1 reminds us that the wounds of our souls are largely self-inflicted. The psalmist needs God’s grace but deserves His wrath. The first four verses of the psalm contain several requests: requests for God’s forgiveness, mercy, healing, turning, and deliverance. The last five verses of the psalm (6:6-10) contain no requests — only statements. Verses 6-7 affirm the depths of the psalmist’s despair, and the last three verses reveal a renewed consecration and also a confidence that God has heard his prayers.

While these verses give no historical details about the original setting of the psalm, we need none. We, like the psalmist, deserve God’s anger and wrath (Romans 1:18). We, like the psalmist, desperately need God’s grace and mercy. Without that mercy, the core of who we are will be shaken.

Three truths help us apply this medicine to our souls. First, this psalm points to our need of Christ. To experience the confidence of Psalm 6:9-10, we must trust in Jesus Christ. We can only pray for God not to be angry because Jesus has taken His Father’s wrath upon Himself. Jesus is our propitiation, our “appeasing sacrifice” (Romans 3:25). A second important truth is that this psalm gives structure to our lives. The confidence comes after confession, confusion, and deep pain. We see, in other words, the truth the Lord stated more succinctly: that those who mourn are the ones blessed and comforted (Matthew 5:4).

Lastly, I mentioned above that this psalm leaves some questions unanswered. Several translations render the end of Psalm 6:3, “How long?” The psalmist also boldly affirms that no one remembers the Lord in death (6:5). We might be tempted to respond, “Well, thankfully the New Testament tells us that we can remember the Lord in death.” That’s not, however, the New Testament’s answer to this problem. It’s not that we remember the Lord in death; it’s that the Lord removes death (John 11:25, 1 Corinthians 15:26). And when He does, we will no longer ask, “How long?” The pointed questions of the psalm drive us to the hope only Christ gives.

Thankfully, the wound on my back healed without a problem. The more important issue is the wounds of our souls. I hope that poets or musicians who run across this column will be encouraged to carry on the great tradition of writing songs based on the Psalms so that we can sing this psalm. For those who are not musicians or poets, I encourage you to use this psalm, along with all of the others, as a guide for prayer. Let’s use the medicine God has given us.

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