Darkness {Psalm 88}

Last year our college ministry spent the summer in the Psalms, and our staff directional team took turns writing devotionals for each Psalm that we covered. While I am traveling and working on some long term projects this summer, I thought I’d share some of the devotionals I wrote. 

I love Christians, but sometimes we say dumb things.

Years ago, in a hard season, people kept telling my friend Rae “God never gives us more than we can handle.” She finally said, “I think God has severely overestimated my abilities!”

It made me laugh, but can we all agree that God has never promised not to give us more than we can handle?

Personally I find most of life more than I can handle. And more often than not, the pathway to deeper dependence on God and faith has been not my ability to handle things, but my inability.

Maybe we say things like “God never gives us more than we can handle” because we’re uncomfortable with suffering. We think we need to fix it, to make it better, to get over it.

Psalm 88 presents a vastly different response to prolonged suffering. This is the saddest of all the laments, called by many “the dark corner of the Psalms.”

The usual pattern of Biblical lament is to begin by describing hard circumstances, but then answer that sadness with truth & thanksgiving. But Psalm 88 contains no upswing, no comforting truth. It begins with “My soul has had enough troubles…” and ends with the psalmist alone in darkness.

Go and read Psalm 88. Focus on the word “You” – if you have a printed copy handy, circle each “You” or “Your” that occurs. Each You/Your refers to Yahweh God (I count 28), and together they paint quite a picture. The psalmist is accusatory. He recognizes Yahweh as the source of his troubles, the bottom-line cause of his suffering.

 

This is where Sovereignty gets uncomfortable. Surely God is not the cause of our suffering, but He could deliver. And if the affliction is from God, then so is the relief. So the Psalmist waits.

My eye has wasted away because of affliction; I have called upon You every day, O Lord;

I have spread out my hands to You.

The imagery in verse 9 is of hands lifted up in prayer. It is a child-like image, a small child with his arms reaching up for comfort from his parent…and in this Psalm, there is no answer. (SO uncomfortable.)

The Psalmist’s felt experience is rejection. He feels like Yahweh is purposely hiding. He concludes that his entire life is affliction, suffering, terror, loneliness. Darkness is all he knows.

How do you respond to this conclusion? How does it make you feel?

I feel sad. I want this not to be true, for anyone, especially not for an extended time.  I want to sit down and pray with the Psalmist and tell him that the Lord has NOT rejected him, that though God is hidden, He is still THERE. These things are true.

But.

The Lord sovereignly allowed this sad song to be preserved over thousands of years, this ancient message of sadness, with no answer. WHY?

Maybe God wants us to know that in the pain of this broken and fallen world, we need the skill of sitting in pain and WAITING.

Maybe we need to be OK with problems that have no earthly answers, with stories that aren’t wrapped up with pretty bows.

Maybe in our pain, we need to know that we have no promises except that the Lord is IN the pain with us.

He is the WITH US God, Emmanuel.

Even in seasons of great pain and sadness when we can’t believe or be comforted by this truth, it is nevertheless good news.

Perhaps you are young, dear reader, and therefore have not had time (yet) to experience prolonged suffering.

If that is true for you – if you cannot relate to the darkness in this Psalm – might I gently encourage you to sit with it for a while? Appreciate that there is no fix, no easy answer, just pain. Let this truth sink deep down inside you.

So that when times of darkness and God’s seeming silence come, you won’t be surprised. And so that, when you come across someone in a season of darkness, you won’t try to put shiny truth band aids on gaping wounds. And might I encourage you as well to begin now to be honest with God about your feelings. Just be you and, happy or sad, feel your feelings with God. It is no small thing to walk with God for a lifetime, and honesty with God is a great habit to develop now.

Or perhaps, dear reader, young or old, the suffering in this Psalm is not unfamiliar to you?

If that is you, let me wrap these words around you like a hug. I am so sorry it is so hard. You don’t have to cheer up, you don’t have to get over it, you don’t have to pretend like trusting Jesus makes everything better.

I do hope it is helpful knowing that this “dark corner of the Psalms” exists. There is room in Scripture, there is room in our grand and glorious faith, there is room for your pain.

Cry out to your God. He has not actually promised to deliver us from pain – but He has promised to be with us. He is WITH you. And we are with you as well.

If you’re interested in reading any of the other Psalms devotionals from last summer (I was very impressed with my coworkers’ writing skills, I really enjoyed every one of these!), you can look around over here.

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