When I was a boy, I remember times when I would walk into the room to find my mom watching another sad movie. These movies usually included the death of a main character as a major plot point with a lot of strong emotions on display as the characters sought to respond to their tragic circumstances. I’m sure you can imagine that, as a kid, I didn’t stay in the room very long when I saw what was on the screen. “Why does Mom want to do this to herself?”
I didn’t want to voluntarily make myself feel sorrow. That didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Perhaps that’s the way you feel when you get to Psalm 88 in your Bible reading. It’s a deeply sad portion of Scripture, and you may be tempted to move on rather quickly. In fact, while there are other psalms of lament, this one is different. While David says in Psalm 13, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” (v. 1), he ends with, “I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me?” (v. 6). And while Psalm 42 says, “My tears have been my food day and night” (v. 3), it ends with the psalmist commanding his soul, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (v. 11).
Psalm 88, however, has no resolution at the end. Throughout the psalm, Heman (the author), writes things such as, “My soul is full of troubles” (v. 3), “I am a man who has no strength” (v. 4), “Your wrath is heavy upon me” (v. 7), and “I suffer your terrors” (v. 15). But unlike Psalm 13 and 42, Psalm 88 ends with Heman saying, “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness” (v. 18). And that’s it…that’s the last verse. This is the only psalm without an obvious note of hope.
Heman feels that his soul is submerged in agony, and it isn’t letting up. But just because there isn’t an obvious note of hope in this psalm, doesn’t mean that it’s not hopeful. Here are three reasons why you should be grateful that Psalm 88 is in your Bible…
First, it reminds us that we can trust God’s Word. Psalm 88 is honest about life, thus conveying that Scripture does not dance around the hard realities of our existence in a fallen world. For God’s people there is such a thing as the dark night of the soul. When we are experiencing inner turmoil, we don’t always get to a settled place at the speed of a 1980’s family sitcom. Seeing that this psalm doesn’t end with a neatly packaged solution tells us that God’s Word is raw at times, which means that Scripture relates to you.
You may think that other Christians seem disingenuous, always so put together on Sunday mornings, and occasionally sharing respectable sins with one another. Well, that may be true of us at times, but that’s never true of God’s Word. In Scripture, God is candid about our weakness, our sin, our need, our suffering, and the messiness of the human condition is described without any pretense.
This becomes highly practical for those times when you feel ashamed that your soul is in such anguish, and it seems like you’ll never know peace again. Or when it feels as if no one is struggling like you are, and no one understands the depth of your grief. In those seasons, you can open to Psalm 88 and be reminded that God is not surprised by your questions, and He hasn’t left you to suffer alone. Then, with this truth in mind, Psalm 88 becomes a catalyst that launches you into other parts of the Bible with the confidence that God can be trusted.
Second, Psalm 88 reminds us where to take our grief, even when the grief remains. This psalm may not resolve at the end, but Heman instructs us to keep seeking the Lord while the pain keeps enduring. Throughout these 18 verses, Heman stops along the way to express His Godward focus:
O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
Every day I call upon you, O LORD;
I spread out my hands to you.
But I, O LORD, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
It’s important to note that Heman is not getting what He desires from God, but He continues to cry out to God. He knows God is the one he needs, so he refuses to look elsewhere for relief, even though he continues to suffer. Dane Ortlund observes, “The very fact that the psalmist sat down and wrote out this prayer to God signifies a fundamental trust in the Lord and in his goodness.”1Article on Psalm 88 from The ESV Devotional Psalter, esv.org. Heman has a similar posture to Peter, after Jesus asked, “Do you want to go away as well?”. His answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:66-67).
Whatever darkness you may be experiencing within, no matter how torturous it may feel, let Psalm 88 exhort you. Don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t “quiet-quit” the faith. Instead, take all the tangled mess of your hurt and feelings of abandonment to God. Cry out to Him and don’t stop. It may not seem like it, but this is an act of faith. And ultimately, God is the one you need, not the answer to your desperate pleas.
Finally, Psalm 88 reminds us of the Gospel. Wait…what? How does a psalm without a resolution remind us of the gospel? Well, because Jesus too experienced anguish of the soul as He prayed to His Father. But His anguish found its fulfillment in the absorption of God’s wrath for our sin. The Father did not let the cup pass from His Son (Matthew 26:39) so that those who trust in Christ will be forgiven of every sin and spend eternity with Him in blissful fellowship. Believers will never know the anguish Christ knew because He experienced it in our place. When you experience a dark night of the soul, take some time to meditate on the reality that your agony is minuscule compared to Christ’s. This is not to belittle your suffering but to give you an eschatological hope of perspective and encourage you to praise your Savior. Because Jesus felt the anguish of the cross, your lesser anguish is only temporary as you look forward to glory.
As depressing as it may seem at first glance, are you grateful that God breathed out Psalm 88? It probably doesn’t include your life verse and it probably won’t be read as the call to worship at your church this Sunday. But, in the wisdom of God, this psalm is there for you when it feels like the grief will never end so that you can trust the active hand of God with the eyes of faith.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).
This blog was originally posted at Center for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship. View the original post here.