As we raise our children, we celebrate growth and progress. Yet we must admit that much of life is taken up with damage control, dealing with break-downs of one type or another. The psalmist in Psalm 38:3-7 is in the midst of this kind of mess. I am selecting this portion of Psalm 38 since it is enclosed at beginning and end by the words, "there is no soundness in my flesh."
Integrity means "of one piece." The person of integrity is not fractured, but rather is whole. There is not a great distance between what he says and what he does. He does not pretend great success in the midst of prevailing failure. He is real, all the way through. The psalmist's references to "no soundness," "no health," "iniquity," and "wounds" show that he admits to a fragmenting of life.
To his credit, the psalmist is not claiming that everything is great on the outside while he experiences misery on the inside. These words from Isaiah 1:6 may match his confession, perhaps not physically, but mentally, spiritually and emotionally: "From the sole of the foot even to the head There is nothing sound in it, Only bruises, welts and raw wounds, Not pressed out or bandaged, Nor softened with oil." An essential step for each of us is to admit that there are real problems.
Three "because" phrases (vv 3,5) show his understanding of his situation. First, the psalmist knows that he is in trouble "because of God's indignation." "Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger?" Nahum 1:6. Second, he is in trouble "because of my sin." He has done what he has done (or not done), and he cannot change the facts of history. The record has been sealed. Third, he is in trouble "because of my folly." The dumb thing about folly is that we know that we are so foolish we will do the dumb thing again. "Like a dog that returns to its vomit Is a fool who repeats his folly" Proverbs 26:11.
When sin gets the best of us, it is like we are drowning in it. Verse 4 speaks of being "overwhelmed," the only negative use of this word in the Old Testament. It feels like we are going under for the last time. This verse speaks of a burdensome-ness to this condition. A bad man makes a rotten mule, unable to bear his load. Verse 5 then describes the sickening side effects: we are offensive to others, and we really cannot stand ourselves.
The last two verses of this section suggested to me several "d" words. When sin's grip is severe, it has far-reaching effects. "Bent" suggests a deranged condition. "Greatly bowed" indicates deep despair. "Mourning" points to a kind of darkness that obscures plain sight. The problem with this condition is that it renders one unable to function properly. Our senses are damaged by this dismal fog of sin and failure. The "burning" of verse 7 suggests disgrace. A dismantling has occurred, so that you are not the person you used to be. This is not progress. It is regress. There will no celebrations for you tonight.
I'm anxious to get out of this section, aren't you? But for each of us in the grip of sin, hoping to find ourselves once again in the grip of grace, this is an essential part of the experience. We need to see ourselves for the sinners that we are, and we need to see our sin for the damage that it does.