Hope in a Psalm 88 World
Stop! You should open up your Bible and read Psalm 88 before you go any further. This article can wait! Did you read it? Did you notice anything weird about this Psalm? It ends without giving much hope. It ends by saying “darkness is on my only friend.” There is no one but God in this Psalm to contradict all the bad that is going on in the psalmist’s life. There is no self-talk or reminders that God has worked in the past and will work again in the future. There is no ray of light poking through the clouds revealing God’s plan for the psalmist’s life. This psalm is raw and real. I am so thankful this chapter is in the Bible. These verses resonate with my soul in certain seasons in my life.
Psalms are meant to be read as poetic language. It is similar to our worship songs that we sing on a Sunday morning. Far too often we move too quickly to singing happy worship songs without resting in the lament and anguish. We fake a smile because we think joy and sadness are mutually exclusive. In reality we can hope in Jesus while at the same time be destroyed over life circumstances. This Psalm offers deep encouragement and gives us hope in this broken world.
Listen to the words the Psalmist uses. He makes his complaints known to God.
I have had enough troubles, and my life is near death (3)
I am like a man without strength (4b)
I am like someone you no longer remember (5)
Your wrath weights on me (7a, 16a)
Your waves overwhelm me (7b)
I have no friends (8, 18)
My eyes are worn out from crying (9)
Lord, why do you reject me (14a)?
Why do you hide your face from me (14b)?
I have been suffering from my youth (for a long time) (15)
Your terrors destroy me (16b)
Darkness is my only friend (18b)
He is complaining about the circumstances in life. This is not self-centered rage at God, but a deep emotional appeal for God to make things right.1 It is longing that sin be removed from the world and all things would be made new. It is expressions of sorrow, loneliness, anxiety, fear, worry, frustration, confusion, and weakness.
This psalm doesn’t tell us the reason for complaining so it’s easy to insert ourselves in the psalm. Many things in our lives can cause lament: health problems, marriages, a death of a loved one, a pandemic, and many other circumstances in life. The Psalmist doesn’t stay in complaining but he goes to God in prayer. He says multiple times that I cry out to God (1b, 2b, and 9b), let my prayer reach you (2b, 13b), and I call out to you for help (13a). The hope in the midst of a Psalm 88 world is found in our relationship to God. We can go to Him in prayer and bring our hardships to Him. He is bigger than the problem that we are currently facing.
The psalmist’s only friend is the darkness, which forces him to go to God in prayer. What is causing you turmoil right now? Have you brought it to God in prayer? Know that to lament is to be human. We voice our complaints, but we don’t stay there. We bring those complaints to God.
Reread the list above and notice how many times the psalmist attributes the pain to God. He knows that he has a sovereign God over every single detail of life. We live in a fallen world where things are not the way they are supposed to be. How comforting to know that God is the one who is in ultimate control. This world is under the control of a loving, merciful, gracious, kind, generous, and sovereign Lord. All the things you go through will never pluck you from His hand. You can move from complaint, to prayer, and ultimately trust because of who God is.
The first line of this Psalm is very telling, Lord, God of my salvation. The psalmist is broken but he is holding on to the God who keeps His promises. We can do the same thing. We can read Psalm 88 and feel hopeless, but we cannot neglect all the other chapters in the Bible. We can lament but we can’t live there. We may keep coming back to lament, but we can move to other scriptures which remind us of the hope we have in Christ.
To be sad, mourn, and weep is what it’s like to live in a broken world. Let’s not feel like we have to “rub some dirt” on our wounds and pretend like everything is great when everything is falling apart around us. Run to Jesus in prayer. He is a God who hears you and cares for you.