When you find yourself in a pit…

February 23rd, 2015

Joseph's story is one of the most moving in the whole Bible. It reaches out to us and involves us in the drama of Joseph's life.

In Genesis 37:23-24, Joseph's villainous brothers turn on him, steal his robe — the long robe their father had given Joseph — and throw him into a pit. “The pit was empty, there was no water in it.”

Who of us hasn't found ourselves in a desolate pit? A pit from which we haven't the means to escape? — a dark, waterless place.

Some of the words of Psalm 6 would flow easily from Joseph's mouth — or ours — at a time like that.

"Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing...
My soul also is sorely troubled.
But thou, O LORD — how long?
Turn, O LORD, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of thy steadfast love …
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping."

I submit that there are at least three kinds of pit we wind up in in the course of life. First, the pit that is the result of our sins, the self-inflicted pit. Second, the pit that is the result of outside forces or the sins of others: Joseph's pit. Third, the "combination pit" — the pit where we wind up through some perhaps confusing combination of our sins and outside forces or the sins of others.

Of the first pit — the dark place in life where our sins take us — Augustine comments on Psalm 6:6:

What in this text is called the "bed" is where the sick and feeble mind rests, that is, in the gratifications of the body and in every worldly pleasure. Whoever tries to free himself from that delight bathes such pleasure in tears, for he sees that he is already condemning carnal longings; and yet his weakness is held captive by his delight and lies down in it willingly. The mind cannot rise from it unless it is healed.

If we, early in this season of Lent, are aware (perhaps due to a failed attempt at Lenten self-denial!) that we delight wrongly in "the gratifications of the body" — let us make Psalm 6 our prayer from the depths of that pit. In fact, whenever we find ourselves Joseph-like in a waterless pit — of whatever kind — in the LORD is our help.

The good news is that God has not left us alone in an empty pit, because Joseph's story points forward to Jesus. Jesus was alone in the pit — in his temptations, in his sufferings on the cross, in his death, etc. — in a way that means that we are never alone since aloneness has been filled by God. In fact, Jesus prayed Psalm 6, and this shows us that God — out of his unchanging love — has been where we are when we seem to be most alone in the pit. Psalm 6:5 speaks the crushing words, “For in death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give thee praise?”

Psalm 139:8 chimes in answer: “If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!” In Jesus Christ, God goes further than the farthest reaches of our God-forgetfulness, our isolation, our God-forsakenness. We see that there is no distance from goodness or joy that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have not already surpassed and exceeded — and so surrounded and couched — in infinite love. In Jesus Christ, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have become the couch of all our tears (Ps. 6:6) — and the one who will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4).

Joseph will one day be raised up and will have a son named Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen. 41:52). Because of Jesus, our lives mirror Joseph's in this too.

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