The Pain of Psalm 88
The Pain of Psalm 88
If I wanted to know about Jesus, I’d mainly read the gospels. If I wanted to know about the church Jesus built, I’d mainly read Acts. If I wanted to know about how people who were a part of that church lived, I’d mainly read the epistles (letters to churches and individuals). But if I wanted to read one Bible document that could help me with my daily struggles, I’d focus in hard on the Psalms, and for the most part, stay in them. These “songs” are rich with all sorts of emotions, the same emotions I can, and very often, do feel daily.
Psalm 88 is, in my judgment, the darkest psalm in the Hebrew psalter and is a go to passage when one finds oneself in the cellar of affliction. Darkness is in most every one of its 18 verses. As a matter of fact, the last word of the psalm in the original Hebrew is darkness. If I may suggest, take the time right now and read this entire chapter (won’t take long, but you won’t feel very good after you read it). About this psalm, one commentator, James Montgomery Boyce said, “It is good that we have a psalm like this, but it is also good that we have just one.” I like that assessment and agree.
Have you ever felt that the things you knew about God intellectually weren’t enough to overtake what you were feeling emotionally? In other words, does your pain seem to overtake your knowledge of God for a day, week, or longer? What do you do from that particular place of darkness? Just how do you sing your pain in the presence of God? When difficulty, sadness and trouble grabs your mind with both hands and is unwilling to yield, disallowing you to face the day’s activities, how do you move forward? If a Christian’s faith does not speak to this scenario, then it’s no wonder many folks say,” No thanks” to the faith we encourage them to accept.
The isolated reading of this psalm will certainly do nothing to help a reader feel better about their troubles; quite the opposite is true. “Gloom, despair and agony on me, (to borrow and old line from the TV show, “Hee-Haw”), deep dark depression, excessive misery” is the sentiment of Psalm 88. Darkness has closed in, and the only thing left to do is cry out (1-2).
Further, I’ve had enough (3), going down…without strength (4), abandoned…lying in the grave…cut off from your care…(5), darkest places (6), weighs heavily…overwhelmed (7), distanced…shut in (8), worn out…I cry…I spread out my hands (9), I call (13), I have been suffering…I am desperate (15), They surround me…they close in on me (17), distanced…darkness (18).
Not much good news in all those phrases, but there is good news shared in the sweeping story of God’s love for His people that finds its greatest fulfillment in what Jesus did when He took on the full anguish of Psalm 88. He was the only truly God-forsaken person who ever lived, and our reading of the New Testament story tells us why. A happy ending awaited Jesus, and such awaits us as well. We have great confidence in a further extended grace. But we still need Psalm 88 because this world hasn’t become anymore like heaven in the three thousand years since it was composed. We still need songs in the night, and God provides them to us.
I’m very thankful for Psalm 88; even more thankful for the other Psalms that answer the darkness.