No one in my life is harder on me than me. When praised for something I’ve done, I will rehearse all the behind-the-scenes factors that make this accomplishment less praiseworthy. And when I do something wrong, I feel like a failure who doesn’t deserve any leniency.
Worse still, I often mistake the voice of my inner critic for the voice of God, imagining Him as a God who is reluctant to bless me while eager to punish my faults.
I was recently forced to confront these tendencies when reading Psalm 107. Before discussing this psalm, it’s helpful to first see the psalm’s structure. It begins with a call to praise God for His goodness and love, and it invites those who have been redeemed by Him to talk about that redemption. It then walks through four scenarios of people being redeemed, each of which follows a pattern: 1) a problem is described, 2) the people cry to God for help, 3) God responds, and 4) the people praise God.
In the pattern’s first scenario (Psalm 107:4–9), we see people on the verge of starvation, we see them cry out to God, and God brings them to a city and satisfies their hunger. In the fourth scenario (Psalm 107:23–32), traders on the sea are endangered by a storm, and when they cry out to God, He stills the waves and brings them safely to harbor. It’s a beautiful picture: people are in danger, they cry out to God, and God rescues them.
But it was the second and third scenarios that surprised me. In the second, the people in need of rescue were in prison “because they rebelled against God’s commands” (Psalm 107:11). In the third, people are suffering “because of their rebellious ways” (Psalm 107:17). In other words, the people’s suffering is self-inflicted. And yet, what happened next was the same: “they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; he saved them from their distress.”
As I read, the people in the second and third scenarios seemed less deserving of rescue than those in the first and fourth. I realized that when I suffer because of my foolish decisions, I don’t feel like I deserve to ask for help. My inner critic chimes in: Don’t like this? Then don’t do it again. Sit in your misery and learn from it. This is what you deserve.
But my inner critic’s voice is not my Father’s voice. What the four scenarios in this psalm have in common is not people who deserve to be rescued but people who cry out to God for rescue. The critical factor is their desperation, not what they “deserve.” Psalm 107 paints a picture of a God who loves to rescue those who cry out to Him.
That’s the same picture of God that Paul paints in Romans 5:8: “God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died for people who didn’t deserve to be died for. Therefore, all who cry out to Him receive what they never deserved: forgiveness of sins and peace with God. Through Jesus, God rescues from judgment all who cry out to Him for salvation. Additionally, He promises to bring us home to a new earth free of all the trials we now face (2 Peter 3:13).
Until that day, we experience trials. Some trials are unavoidable. Others might be the consequences of our actions. Whatever kind they are, Psalm 107 invites us to bring those trials to the Lord and cry out to Him in the midst of them. It presents a God who hears those cries. Though I’m often tempted to listen to my inner critic, Psalm 107 has reminded me that God isn’t looking for an excuse to scold me. Rather, His arms are open, inviting me to bring all my troubles to Him.
And even if in His wisdom He doesn’t immediately remove the trials we face, Scripture assures us that He is with us as we walk through them and that a world is coming in which those trials will be forever removed.
In Psalm 107, the writer calls all four groups of people who experience God’s deliverance to respond the same way: “Let them give thanks to the LORD for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all humanity” (verses 8, 15, 21, 31). May we too give thanks to God for His love, both in this life and the next.