GEMS FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
Many prayers in the Psalms are offered by people going through difficult times; but most of them express a measure of confidence and end on a note of hope. That is not the case in Psalm 88. The psalmist feels as if he’s adrift among the dead and in the depths of darkness. It seems that he has been hit with wave after wave of affliction, been terrorized from his youth, and lost all his loved ones and friends. There’s sadness throughout, and it even ends with the word darkness. Why is a psalm like this even in the Bible?
“O Lord, God of my salvation . . .” (Psalm 88:1)
This is what the psalmist believes, and on this basis he prays to God. He holds onto that even though his emotions are running amok. This psalm contains a sobering lineup of troubles. Outwardly the circumstances of his life are dark, and inwardly he’s experiencing darkness also.
There are occasions when Christians can face dark times and still remain calm and at peace; but that’s not always the case. This psalmist, for example, feels intensely that he has been abandoned by God. From a distance we can objectively consider his situation and conclude that what he is feeling isn’t true. God never abandons and rejects His children. Deep down, the psalmist knows that, too; but that’s not how he feels.
The Bible deals with reality—with life as we experience it. Dark times can and do come into the lives of Christians regardless of how devout they are and how well they know the Bible. Nevertheless, many believers have shared that it was through the darkest times that they really came to understand and appreciate God’s mercy and grace.
The psalmist is so overwhelmed with disappointment and grief that he’s getting many of the facts wrong. For example, it seems to him that God doesn’t love him anymore. That cannot be true; but God knows His children well and understands how vulnerable they are to feeling like that when grief colors their reason. The weaknesses of His children, however, never push Him away from them. He will abide with them and take care of them even when they’re crushed by grief and making little sense, because He is and ever remains a God of grace.
Many believers will face severe trials that last for years, some even for a lifetime; but our life on earth is relatively brief and its sufferings not worth comparing with the glory and joy that God has in store for us in eternity. (Romans 8:18) God has such glory and joy waiting for us because there was Someone who actually did endure what the psalmist wrote about.
The psalmist didn’t really suffer God’s terrors and wasn’t really in the depths of the pit. God’s face was not, in truth, hidden from him.
For Jesus, however, the darkness was deep and real, God did turn His face away from Him, and the sufferings of Jesus were to the uttermost. When Jesus was on the cross, darkness was His only companion. God’s wrath truly did engulf Him.
Jesus experienced all of that to take away our sins; and, thanks to Jesus, we are spared God’s wrath, God’s face will always be toward us, and our darkness is turned to light. The grace of God always overrules our misguided feelings and fears.
In verse 10 the psalmist asked, “Shall the dead arise and praise You?”
Thanks to Jesus, the answer is, “Yes! Yes, we will!”
“And all the people said, ‘Amen!’ and praised the Lord.” (1 Chronicles 13:36)
Delwyn Maas is pastor of Gift of God Lutheran Church in Mapleton, North Dakota.