But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,
who boast against me when my foot slips!” For I am ready to fall,
and my pain is ever before me.
I confess my iniquity;
I am sorry for my sin.But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
Those who render me evil for good
accuse me because I follow after good.Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!

—Psalm 38:15-22 (ESV)

In David’s plea for the Lord’s mercy, Martin Luther (1483–1546) sees the theology of the cross: God does not rely on our strength nor does he build on our works, but rather he pours out his grace only on those who are helpless and desperate before him.

In the Heidelberg Disputation (1518), Luther tied this idea to how God’s love differs from the love of human beings: “The love of God does not find but creates what is lovable to it; the love of human beings comes into existence only by what is lovable to it.” While our love is lifeless and passive, God’s love is life-giving and active, not dependent on anyone else. God creates ex nihilo, but first we must becoming nothing.

Commentary on Psalm 38

It is God’s nature to make something out of nothing; hence out of one who is not yet nothing God cannot make anything. Human beings, however, make something else out of what already exists; but this has no value whatever. Therefore God accepts only the forsaken, cures only the sick, gives sight only to the blind, restores life only to the dead, sanctifies only the sinners, gives wisdom only to the unwise. In short, he has mercy only on those who are wretched, and gives grace only to those who are not in grace.


Psalms 1-72, ed. Herman Selderhuis, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, OT Vol. VII, p. 306.