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There is no way around it; Psalm 88 is a dark psalm. Life is hard at the beginning. “My soul is full of troubles and my life draws near to Sheol [death]” (v. 3). Life is hard in the middle. “I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow” (v. 9). Life is still hard at the end of the psalm. “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness” (v. 18).
Whereas most of the Psalter’s laments end well; working their way to hope and praise—this one does not. Why? I offer this: sometimes life doesn’t get easier in the morning; nor does it in a few days. Despair can engulf us for a lengthier time—the image of the dust cloud following Pig Pen in the Peanut’s cartoon comes to mind.
If we are looking for any glimpse of hope from the psalmist, we have to look hard. One such glimmer is that he is still praying. “O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you” (v. 1). This is good; this is instructive—despite prolonged despair, prayers are still being offered.
A second glimmer is that he acknowledges it is God who has turned the lights off and lowered life’s shades. “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them” (vv. 6-8). This is also good; this is also instructive—despite prolonged despair, there is realization that God is sovereign and on His throne orchestrating all things.
Given that the psalmist is praying and given that he knows God is ultimately behind his sorrow; the psalmist indicates faith still has a pulse. As dark as Psalm 88 is; the psalm we pen is much darker if we have stopped praying and if we have stopped thinking God has His hands moving and working in all things.
So our psalmist, weak and weary that he is, keeps praying to the God who oversees all. “I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide Your face from me?” (vv. 13-14). Morning has come, but it is still dark.
Another verse from the psalms comes to mind regarding this topic. It is a verse many like; it is Psalm 30:5. Maybe we have memorized it; some have written songs and hymns based on it; no doubt some ink master has made it permanent on someone’s shoulder or arm: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Psalm 88 doesn’t contradict that beloved verse. It just lets us know it might be several dark mornings away.
Pastor Rich Hamlin
September 12, 2013