Like us, the Psalms share a bed with suffering. Psalm 31:9–16 puts words to the grief and loneliness we feel. But David does more than provide a vocabulary for our suffering. He puts words of truth and faith in our mouths. He gives us a confession.
David’s words of suffering punctuate this section of Psalm 31. His distress binds him. His grief ravages his body and soul. He’s cried his eyes out. His bones waste away. He’s bent to the point of breaking, and sorrow and sighing are his only company.
We suffer as David did. Grief consumes us. It grabs us, devours us, and digests us; it eats away at us from the inside out. And like David, we feel alone in it. Suffering and grief exist because sin exists and because of sin’s two-fisted grip on our lives, we cannot overcome it nor our suffering and grief. It is because of our iniquity that our strength fails (Ps. 31:10). We are bent by our iniquity; we are made crooked by our sin; we can’t stand straight and throw off our troubles.
The iniquity of others causes and adds to our suffering. David’s adversaries schemed against him. They whispered and lied about him. They shamed him and made him “a reproach, especially to [his] neighbors.” Those who barely knew David dreaded him; those who saw him in the streets couldn’t flee fast enough (Ps. 31:11). Those in conflict with us do the same. They poison the well of our reputations. Those who recognize us avoid us. Acquaintances ignore us. Those closest to us abandon us for safer, cleaner waters.
In the midst of our suffering, grief, and distress, David gives us words to confess.
Still stronger, more powerful enemies attack us. Our sinful nature convinces us that if we work hard enough, we can overcome our suffering. But when we fail, it mocks us. Death follows us like a shadow; it looms over us darkening every part of our lives. The devil schemes and whispers. He says we’re worthless; that our abandonment by friends and neighbors proves it; that this means God must have abandoned us too.
But in the midst of our suffering, grief, and distress, David gives us words to confess. The psalmist knows God’s true nature. David calls on God to be gracious because he recognizes that God is gracious (v. 9). He doesn't appeal to God to change His way from wrath to grace, but that God would be who He says He is. He confesses, “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God’” (v. 14).
This confession of faith is not David’s doing. Nor is ours. The faith we confess, and by which we appeal to God’s nature and His steadfast love, is a gift from God Himself. He works it in us by the power of His Holy Spirit. He became and did that which we believe by taking on our flesh, our sin, and our death that we would be forgiven and live. He delivers this faith, forgiveness, and life to us by His Word, written and proclaimed, attached to water and bread and wine.
It is in Jesus and His work for us that we see God’s face shine brightest on us.
In our grief and distress, we pray with David that God would make His face shine on us (v. 16). Like him, we seek assurance that our faith in Him was not misplaced. We can take heart. “When [we] are looking for some epiphany of God’s grace,” theologian Jason Lane writes, “some assurance that God is still at work in us, the Spirit tells us that His greatest gift is to call Jesus Lord.” It is in Jesus and His work for us that we see God’s face shine brightest on us. It is by His Holy Spirit, who sustains our faith in Jesus, that we confess amid our suffering that He is our God and that His face still and always will shine on us.