May 15, 2020 by Steven Lulich
You who have made me see many troubles and calamites
Will revive me again;
From the depths of the earth
You will bring me up again.”
In my life, I don’t feel like I have personally known “many troubles and calamities,” but I know others who have. As a professor, I sometimes have the terrible and humbling privilege of being granted insight into my students’ personal lives. More often than I could wish, these young adults have already known significant hardships. Sometimes the “many troubles and calamities” are imposed externally, by forces outside of our control – troubles and calamities like earthquakes, tornados, viruses, car accidents, and wars. Sometimes they are self-inflicted through poor choices, despair, and a lack of hope for something better.
In this time of extreme social distancing, I have made it a point to finally read some books that have been waiting for me for years. At the moment, I’m knee-deep into Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. As he does in Crime and Punishment (which many of us read in high school) Dostoyevsky here meticulously deals with “many troubles and calamities” of the self-inflicted sort. Through the whole story there is a sort of tug-of-war between hope and hopelessness. By my count, at least two of the main characters have already explicitly acknowledged that they are wicked, and that they intend to revel in their wickedness all the way to the end. Why? Because they have no hope for anything better. They don’t believe in God, or at least they don’t believe that God will have anything to do with them. They find solace and comfort in believing that there is nothing beyond the grave.
This is not merely fiction. I knew an older man once who confessed to me – directly, point blank – that he loved his sin. He had no hope of redemption, and had abandoned himself to his sins.
The Apostle Paul summarizes this hopelessness in 1 Corinthians 15:16-19:
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
It is true that we see “many troubles and calamities” in our world. The world is not right, and we are not right within the world. And yet……
“You will revive me again. From the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.” The hope of the Psalmist is radiant with expectation! This verse is perhaps the high-water mark of Psalm 71. In the preceding verses, the Psalmist has entreated God, “incline your ear to me and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge” (v. 2b-3a), “rescue me” (v. 4), “be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me” (v. 12). But now, in verses 20 and 21, the Psalmist changes to the future tense: “You will revive me, from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again, you will increase my greatness and comfort me again.” It is enough to cause the Psalmist to burst into praise (vs. 22-24). This is what hope looks like – and what a hope! It is no mere earthly hope that we might not die at the hands of our enemies, or at the cruel random selection of a contagious virus. This is a hope beyond all earthly hopes, that God will revive us and bring us up from the depths of the earth, even after we have died and been buried. “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead … so also in Christ shall all be made alive … The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:20-26).
Let this be encouragement for all of us. When we, or a loved one, or even a complete stranger who crosses our path cries out because of “many troubles and calamities”, let us comfort ourselves, our loved one, the stranger, by joining with the Psalmist to proclaim “the wondrous deeds” of God (vs. 17-18) and to place our ultimate hopes in Him. For “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:56-57).