Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities
2 Corinthians 3:18
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit
Psalm 130 is the outburst of an afflicted spirit: "Out of the depths." Obviously the psalmist is in serious distress, but we do not know exactly in what kind of distress he is. Probably his life is threatened and he is attacked by the enemy, or he is undergoing some inward spiritual crisis. Whatever the circumstances are, one thing is very clear: that the psalmist is not swallowed up by the distress surrounding him, but persists in believing and hoping in God.
The spirit of hope in his soul is much greater than the spirit of hopelessness. For him, distresses are not opportunities to murmur and grumble against God; rather, they are opportunities to look up to heaven and ask for God's intervention. He does not focus his attention on the difficulties lying in his path but on God who is able to remove all kinds of difficulties. He has a believing spirit. He prays, and he is confident that God's delivering grace will follow his prayer.
When he thinks of his iniquities, he is filled with fear lest the Lord should mark his sins. "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?" (v.3). He knows that if God demands an accounting of his iniquities, there can be no hope for him. But he is confident that God would not do so, because God is the kind of God who casts all his sins behind his back (Isa. 38:17). The psalmist is sure that God is not interested in his sins, but in him. He knows that God does not count his transgressions and wrongdoings, but he takes full account of him.
The psalmist pictures himself as someone who needs forgiveness, mercy and redemption, and God as someone who has all those things (vv.4,7). The psalmist is asking for God's forgiveness, by which he indicates that he has a real conviction of his own sins. This leads him to cry to God "Out of the depths"; out of the depths of unfaithfulness, of disobedience, of transgressions. No one can cry "out of the depths" unless he feels the destructive power of sin within himself or herself.
Verses 5 and 6 show that the author has absolute faith in God's forgiveness: "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning." The psalmist waited and received God's blessings. Anyone who does not know how to wait does not receive God's blessings. "In God's word I hope." The word of God is the hope of the hopeless ones. There is a delivering power in God's word, a life-giving strength. "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the word of eternal life" (John 6:68). To put our hope in the word of God means to rise out of the "depths". No one ever hoped and then remained in the "depths". God is a restoring God.
Verses 7 and 8 tell us that the psalmist got what he asked for. Now he is out of the depths in which he at first found himself, and so he can encourage and exhort the people of Israel to put their hope in the Lord. He testifies that "with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem". He would not exhort others to put their hope in the Lord if he had been disappointed himself. He has no doubt that the God who redeemed him will also redeem the Israelites. He knows for sure that the Lord will not fail the people, just as God did not fail him personally.
Verse 8 does not speak about the deliverance of the people of Israel, but about their redemption. Redemption needs sacrifice. The Son of God became that sacrifice. Through his sacrificial death not only the Israelites, but the entire world, was emancipated from eternal death.
The psalmist testifies that God not only has redeemed him from his iniquities, not only has removed his penalty, but also has granted him peace, joy, and new life. This inner joy is the result of forgiveness. No one can have this inner joy and peace if he or she is not forgiven.
"And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18). In verse 16 the apostle Paul speaks about the vital importance of turning to Christ in order for the veil to be removed. In verse 17 he talks about the real freedom which is the result of receiving the Holy Spirit. No one can receive the Holy Spirit unless he or she turns to Christ. Turning to Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit will enable us to reflect the glory of the Lord. To reflect the glory of the Lord means to go through gradual spiritual transfiguration. There can be no spiritual transfiguration without the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Christ's Spirit helps us to grow in the glory of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the one who restores in us the image and the likeness of Christ.
Paul knows by his own experience that the veil will be removed from the life of those who become Christians, and they will go "from glory to glory", "from strength to strength" (Ps. 84:7), and he wants everybody to come to that knowledge. By the words "from glory to glory", of course, Paul does not refer to worldly splendour, but to spiritual excellence and perfection.
Without faith there can be no gradual process of spiritual assimilation. Using the faith granted to us by God leads us to perfection. To have faith in Christ grants us the power which produces assimilation into Christ. Faith justifies us. Faith sanctifies us. Faith changes us. When we use the word "change" we do not mean merely a change of feeling, or opinion, or even behaviour, but a change of being.
Our heavenly Father changes us into the divine likeness, a likeness that we lost through the fall. By the constant work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we become like Christ. And when we become like Christ, we reflect the glory and beauty of the Father, because Christ "is the reflection of the Father's glory and the exact imprint of Father's very being" (Heb. 1:3).
What does it mean to be assimilated into Christ? Or what should we do in order to be assimilated into Christ? First, we have to ask Christ to become "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Heb. 12:2), and second, we have to invite him to live his own life in our lives. By doing so, he will renew us in his own image by the gracious presence and work of the Holy Spirit.
No one can apprehend the transforming power of a pure Christianity without this doctrine of spiritual operation. Going through such spiritual operation not only will make us kind and good Christians, but also Christians who are reformed and born again. In other words, kind and good people are not the ones who can be assimilated into Christ, but reformed and born again people are the ones who can be so.
Christians who claim that they have been born again and renewed must not live a life different from the life of Christ. They shall not only bear the name of Christ, but also the character and characteristics of Christ, the identity and the individuality of Christ, the personality and the distinctiveness of Christ. Hence, to be assimilated into Christ means to have the forgiving spirit of Christ, the loving heart of Christ, the prayerful mind of Christ, and along with all these, to become the restoring and regenerating presence of Christ in the life of lost humanity.
Accepting Christ as the door of salvation will enable us to lead others to salvation. In this way, we are truly assimilated into Christ.
Father Vaghinag is a member of the brotherhood of the Holy See of Cilicia, Lebanon. He was ordained in 1995. After graduating from the seminary of the catholicosate, he studied for two years at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the USA. He is currently the director of the Bible studies/theological education department of the Catholicosate of Cilicia.
God of unity, God of love,
What we say with our lips, make strong in our hearts.
What we affirm with our minds, make vivid in our lives.
Send us your Spirit
To pray in us what we dare not pray,
To claim us beyond our own claims,
To bind us when we are tempted to go our own ways.
Lead us forward.
Lead us together.
Lead us to do your will,
The will of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Why is asking for and receiving forgiveness important for good relationships between individuals, communities and nations? What does offering forgiveness and being forgiven do for "victims" and "offenders"? What is the significance of our requests for forgiveness in the Lord's prayer and in our liturgies? In what ways can we identify with the writer of Psalm 130?
Fr Vaghinag reminds us that the writer is severely afflicted but not in hopeless despair. Read Psalm 130 verse by verse and identify the phrases which indicate the writer's faith and trust in God. What do these tell us about the writer, and about God?
Does this psalm imply that God will rescue us from affliction and restore the status quo, or does the idea of forgiveness mean that we are for ever changed? How have we experienced God's response to our cries out of the depths?
Read 2 Corinthians 3:18. What does it mean to be transformed, through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, "from one degree of glory to another"?
How does this Bible study help us understand and respond to the assembly theme "God, in your grace, transform the world"?