Psalm 71: A sign pointing many to God
A century ago the Spanish flu pandemic brought great destruction in its wake. Especially susceptible to the virus’ deadly effects were young adults in their twenties. Now, a century later, COVID-19 wreaks havoc around the globe, but this time it is the old who are especially susceptible. Each time we are reminded of the generations and the seasons of life. We are born, we mature into adults, and then we grow old and die. During a time of pandemic we reflect on our mortality, on the meaning of our lives, and, perhaps, we ask the question, “Where is God in all this?” Psalm 71 is a helpful psalm for us to pray no matter what season of life we find ourselves in, whether young or old. The poet assumes that life is hard and filled with troubles, whether troubles brought on by other people or natural troubles, including those related to old age and frailty. While plagued by troubles, yet for the poet, trouble is not the dominant note of this psalm. More than any other passage in the Old Testament, Psalm 71 deeply attests to the righteousness (or the justice or faithfulness) of God in the poet’s life. God relates to human beings in a right way when they enter into covenant relationship with him and call out to him for help. God is just in his dealings with his people and faithful to act in a right way. So when the poet experiences trouble, he calls out to God, for God is faithful and just to rescue and deliver as he has promised. As the poet reflects upon his long life, he testifies to God’s righteous deeds. He has learned over a long life that God is reliable and trustworthy. There is no one else who is as faithful and just as God, and the poet will loudly proclaim this truth to any who will listen. We who pray Psalm 71 do so alongside God’s people for the past three thousand years. It gives us the language, the vocabulary, and the rhythms to voice our concerns to God. And it reminds us that more than our troubles, the dominant note among God’s people may be the note of trust in God’s faithfulness. The poet is an old man who contemplates his life; we may learn from his wisdom and his example. In fact, he points to that very truth in verse 7: “I have become a sign to many; you are my strong refuge.” Earlier we asked the question, “Where is God in all this?” and the psalmist answers, “My life itself is a sign pointing to God’s justice, faithfulness, and protection.” The church has long assigned this psalm to be read on the Tuesday before Easter, for Christians have recognized that Jesus is a sign pointing to God’s activity of salvation among us. As Jesus was rejected by people, and as he suffered and died on the cross, the question “Who is this man?” demands an answer of us. Is Jesus the one in whom and through whom God acted to ransom, rescue, and deliver many from the power of sin and death? Was God present as Jesus hung on the cross? During this COVID-19 pandemic, look to Jesus as one who fulfills the prayer of Psalm 71. Jesus is a sign to many. How is your life a sign of God’s presence and activity to those all around you?