Psalms in Time of Illness

The most familiar form of the psalms is that of a lamentation, both communal as well as individual.  However, Bernhard Anderson wrote in his book Out of the Depths, "The term lament is not an altogether satisfactory label for these psalms.  The word may suggest a pessimistic view of life, a morbid concentration on human agony or guilt.  But this is not the mood of the psalmists."

The psalmists wrote in a style that moved the subject from complaint to praise, from problem to solution, from ennui to energy, from weakness to strength.  After stating the subject of the lament, the psalmist gently nudges the person to the realization that God is the answer for every problem, the source of strength in the midst of weakness.  Praying the psalms helps the person to move from thoughts of his or her plight to words of praise and confidence in the saving power of God.  This makes the psalms which specifically cite illness ideal for those who suffer chronic illness or disability.  By letting the words pierce our hearts, the psalms can move us to what St. Paul calls "Glorying in Infirmity." 

Psalm 38

A psalm of David. For remembrance. 

LORD, do not punish me in your anger; in your wrath do not chastise me.
Your arrows have sunk deep in me; your hand has come down upon me.
There is no wholesomeness in my flesh because of your anger; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
My iniquities overwhelm me, a burden too heavy for me.
Foul and festering are my sores because of my folly.
I am stooped and deeply bowed; every day I go about mourning.
My loins burn with fever; there is no wholesomeness in my flesh. 
I am numb and utterly crushed; I wail with anguish of heart. 
My Lord, my deepest yearning is before you; my groaning is not hidden from you. 
My heart shudders, my strength forsakes me; the very light of my eyes has failed. 
Friends and companions shun my disease; my neighbors stand far off. 
Those who seek my life lay snares for me; they seek my misfortune, they speak of ruin; they plot treachery every day.
But I am like the deaf, hearing nothing, like the mute, I do not open my mouth, 
I am even like someone who does not hear, who has no answer ready. 
LORD, it is for you that I wait; O Lord, my God, you respond. 
For I have said that they would gloat over me, exult over me if I stumble. 
I am very near to falling; my wounds are with me always. 
I acknowledge my guilt and grieve over my sin. 
My enemies live and grow strong, those who hate me grow numerous fraudulently, 
Repaying me evil for good, accusing me for pursuing good. 
Do not forsake me, O LORD; my God, be not far from me! 
Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my salvation!

Psalm 6

For the leader; with stringed instruments, “upon the eighth.”

A psalm of David.

Do not reprove me in your anger, LORD,nor punish me in your wrath.
Have pity on me, LORD, for I am weak; heal me, LORD, for my bones are shuddering.
My soul too is shuddering greatly—and you, LORD, how long…?*
Turn back, LORD, rescue my soul;save me because of your mercy.
For in death there is no remembrance of you.Who praises you in Sheol?*

I am wearied with sighing; all night long I drench my bed with tears; I soak my couch with weeping.
My eyes are dimmed with sorrow, worn out because of all my foes.

Away from me, all who do evil!
The LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD will receive my prayer.
My foes will all be disgraced and will shudder greatly; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.

Psalm 41

For the leader. A psalm of David.

Blessed the one concerned for the poor; on a day of misfortune, the LORD delivers him.
The LORD keeps and preserves him, makes him blessed in the land, and does not betray him to his enemies.
The LORD sustains him on his sickbed, you turn down his bedding whenever he is ill.

Even I have said, “LORD, take note of me; heal me, although I have sinned against you.
My enemies say bad things against me: ‘When will he die and his name be forgotten?’
When someone comes to visit me, he speaks without sincerity.  His heart stores up malice; when he leaves, he gossips.
All those who hate me whisper together against me; they imagine the worst about me:
’He has had ruin poured over him; that one lying down will never rise again.’
Even my trusted friend,who ate my bread,has raised his heel against me.

“But you, LORD, take note of me to raise me up that I may repay them.”
By this I will know you are pleased with me, that my enemy no longer shouts in triumph over me.
In my integrity may you support me and let me stand in your presence forever.
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from all eternity and forever.  Amen.  Amen.