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God With Us In Our Despair | Psalm 88

Psalm 88 | God With Us In Our Despair

Today, we are going to see how Christians should behave when we are going through very dark times. We are going to look at lament, anguish, pain, suffering and darkness.

We are going through the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India. The infection rates and death rates are alarmingly high. There is pain and suffering all around us. How do we relate to God in pain?

God With Us In Our Despair

Psalm 88

Open your bibles to Psalm 88.

This is an incredibly sorrowful Psalm. This is regarded as the saddest Psalm in the entire collection. This is a lament or it is a cry. It is a cry of someone who is going through a very dark season and the person is asking “why?”

Psalm 18 is a psalm written by Heman, the Ezrahite. Heman was a priest and he was one of Israel’s worship leaders. You can read about him in 1 Chronicles 15-16. He is the one who is leading Israel in singing praises to God. We have one praise song of Heman in the book of Psalms and that is lament in Psalm 88.

Psalm 88

1Lord, you are the God who saves me;

day and night I cry out to you.

2May my prayer come before you;

turn your ear to my cry.

3I am overwhelmed with troubles

and my life draws near to death.

4I am counted among those who go down to the pit;

I am like one without strength.

5I am set apart with the dead,

like the slain who lie in the grave,

whom you remember no more,

who are cut off from your care.

6You have put me in the lowest pit,

in the darkest depths.

7Your wrath lies heavily on me;

you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.

8You have taken from me my closest friends

and have made me repulsive to them.

I am confined and cannot escape;

9my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day

I spread out my hands to you.

10Do you show your wonders to the dead?

Do their spirits rise up and praise you?

11Is your love declared in the grave,

your faithfulness in Destruction?

12Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,

or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

13But I cry to you for help, Lord;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

14Why, Lord, do you reject me

and hide your face from me?

15From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;

I have borne your terrors and am in despair.

16Your wrath has swept over me;

your terrors have destroyed me.

17All day long they surround me like a flood;

they have completely engulfed me.

18You have taken from me friend and neighbor—

darkness is my closest friend.

This psalm ends on a very depressing note. The word darkness is mentioned three times here and that is the theme of this psalm. One commentator has called it the “darkest corner of the Psalter” (R.E.O. White, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible).

Outwardly he is facing darkness. But inwardly he is facing darkness too. If outwardly if you face darkness but if inwardly you face God’s presence and love, you can make it. That is not what is happening here. He feels rejected, abandoned. He feels that God is gone. By the end of the prayer he is still in darkness. You can be a believing Christian and yet it does not get any better for a long time.

What a way to finish a prayer? Darkness is my closest friend. The psalmist is praying that at least darkness, or death can wipe my memory of pain a bit. My one hope is just darkness. This is how this psalm ends.

This is the lament of a person. Sometimes it is an individual suffering like in this psalm. Sometimes the lament is about the whole community suffering. “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat own and wept, when we remembered Zion.” Sometimes it is the suffering that we have brought upon ourselves. Sometimes God is there and present in the suffering and you just cannot escape from God. Psalm 39 ends like this:

Psalm 39:13 Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again before I depart and am no more.

This was one of the prayer of God’s people for almost 3000 years. A prayer of lament. A worship of lament.

Let us look at the psalm:

Cry of Distress: Psalm 88:1-2

The psalm begins with an anguished cry of distress.

Psalm 88:1-2

1Lord, you are the God who saves me;

day and night I cry out to you.

2May my prayer come before you;

turn your ear to my cry.

We should notice two things:

A. This Psalm Is Addressed To The Lord.

“Lord, you are the God who saves me (NIV), The God of my salvation” (RSV). Despite the fact the psalmist is in a position where he feels overwhelmed by life, even abandoned by God—he still acknowledges that this is his God, the God of his salvation (or deliverance). This psalmist is clinically depressed we can say and yet the psalmist is crying out to the Lord his salvation.

The psalmist is broken hearted and he does not understand why. But I know one promise from the psalm when I am broken hearted. Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

B. This Psalm Is A Prayer.

Psalm 88:2 May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.

Despite the overwhelmingly despairing note in the psalm, it is still a prayer, and it is addressed to God (see also v. 13).

Psalm 88:13

But I cry to you for help, Lord;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Both of these points show us the psalmist believes in God. In spite of all the destruction around him, he still prays to God, to his God.

The psalm quickly moves on, though. The psalmist is not interested in affirming this God, but rather in pouring out his troubles before Him, even questioning Him.

The Psalmist Vocals His Troubles

What are the emotions the psalmist is going through?

He Feels He Is Buried Alive

Psalm 88:3-6

3I am overwhelmed with troubles

and my life draws near to death.

4I am counted among those who go down to the pit;

I am like one without strength.

5I am set apart with the dead,

like the slain who lie in the grave,

whom you remember no more,

who are cut off from your care.

6You have put me in the lowest pit,

in the darkest depths.

Palmist feels like he is buried alive. He feels like he is dead already.

Charles Spurgeon says about this passage as to what the psalmist felt. “He felt as if he were as utterly forgotten as those whose body is left to rot on the battle field. As when a soldier wounded, bleeds and is left unattended in the battle field.”

Charles wrote that 150 years ago. Charles Spurgeon battled with depression and he could identify himself with the psalmist. Today, when we through times of despair and trials and it is okay to speak it out to God. So the Psalmist feels he is buried alive.

He Feels He Is Drowning.

Psalm 88:7

Your wrath lies heavily on me;

you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.

This feels like life is coming up to your neck and you feel like you will not get over it. Have you ever felt like you are drowning in pain?

“The mind can descend far lower than the body, for it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” Charles Spurgeon.

The Psalmist Feels Abandoned.

Psalm 88:8

You have taken from me my closest friends

and have made me repulsive to them.

I am confined and cannot escape;

Psalm 88:18

You have taken from me friend and neighbor—

darkness is my closest friend.

We ourselves know from experience the support of family, friends and church people is crucial in helping us through the crises of life. However, the psalmist feels as though he has none of these.

He feels abandoned by his friends. This is like what happened to Job and he is left alone abandoned in the darkness. Feels utterly abandoned. Is there anything painful than death, death of a loved one? Is there anything painful than a friends who betrays you. This is the experience of Heman.

This psalm permeated with images of death (Sheol, the Pit, the grave, the dead, the slain, defiled bodies). The psalmist has not died, but he uses these images to illustrate how serious his troubles are. It’s an overwhelming picture of darkness and despair painted here.

The Psalmist Tells That God Is Afflicting Him

Psalm 88:6-7

6You have put me in the lowest pit,

in the darkest depths.

7Your wrath lies heavily on me;

you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.

The psalmist now points to God as the source of his problems in verses 6-9. God has brought him down, down to the very depths (v. 6). God has brought down to the lowest pit, the dark places, the depths (v. 6). The psalmist feels the weight of God’s wrath, of his angry breakers crashing over him (v. 7).

Perhaps worst of all, God has removed his friends from him; there is no one he can turn to! He is utterly alone in life (v. 8).

The psalmist feels overwhelmed, afflicted by God and cannot escape.

Psalm 88:8c-9

I am confined and cannot escape;

His eye is dimmed with grief

The Psalmist Questions God

As a result of all of this, the psalmist turns to the only One he can, to God; he has a series of six questions for God in verses 10-12. They all are variations on one theme: the dead do not praise God. Each question in these verses mentions the realm of the dead along with something about God’s goodness.

Psalm 88:10-12

10Do you show your wonders to the dead?

Do their spirits rise up and praise you?

11Is your love declared in the grave,

your faithfulness in Destruction?

12Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,

or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

The psalmist is praising God, testifying to His goodness—His steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, wonderful works—with life. He cannot come in terms with death and destruction around him coming from God. “God, I don’t understand with what I am going through in comparison to your nature.”

In Psalm 30, another lament psalm, the psalmist questions God like this:

Psalm 30:9

“What is gained if I am silenced,

if I go down to the pit?

Will the dust praise you?

Will it proclaim your faithfulness?

In this passage, we can see the psalmist assumes that while he is alive, he will praise God. The psalmist’s request for deliverance is not self-centered or self-serving, – that he be spared, so that he can praise and glorify God!!

Psalmist Talks About What To Do With Lament

So Often What Do We Do With Our Despair Or Lament?

  • We Bottle it up
  • We Grumble about it.
  • We Make a protest about to God.

This is wrong. We are not asked to bury our despair under the carpet. We are not asked to suppressed our emotions in the Bible. We are to address our protest to God not to people about God.

What We Need To Do When In Despair? We pray it.

This Psalm tells us what we do with despair. We pray it. We vocalize it. We speak our despair to God. That is okay. Instead of vocalizing your pain to people, it is good to vocalize your pain to God in worship.

We address it to God. Heman prays his despair.

Psalm 88:1-2

1Lord, you are the God who saves me;

day and night I cry out to you.

2May my prayer come before you;

turn your ear to my cry.

Psalm 88:13-14

13But I cry to you for help, Lord;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

14Why, Lord, do you reject me

and hide your face from me?

The psalmist takes all his lament to God in prayer.

So What Do With You Anguish And Despair?

Pray it.

Sometimes you will able to put words to pray.

Sometimes when suffering hits, all you will do is have no words but groan.

Romans 8:22-23 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

The Holy Spirit groaning in us. Romans 8:26-28 26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

When you cannot pray the Holy Spirit is praying with you, in you, for you.

Pick Up One Of The Lament Psalm And Pray.

Pray with a lament song from the Bible. Put your own words in your suffering. At some point you start to feel the fellowship with Christ and sharing in His suffering.

What will look like if we prayed psalm 88 every day?

“Lord you know that we are going through this pandemic. Lakhs of people have died. If you had shown up, when 1000’s people prayed to you, this would not have happened. But you have allowed this to happen. Why did you allow my loved one to die? I do not understand why I am going through what I am going through. I know it says that all things work together for good, but I cannot understand it now. I know you love me, but I don’t feel it now. I am so confused about what is happening to me. I feel so abandoned by you. I am not going to pretend it is okay. I am going to take all my lament to you. God you have stripped away the things that I love and now all I have is you and I don’t know where you are? But you are all I got. Amen”

Who Is This Man Called Heman?

This is a priest, a worship leader. He stands between God and people and sums up their anguish, worship and prayers and to direct them to God. That is his job. All these are the pictures of the Lord Jesus Christ is a shadow of what Jesus will do when he comes.

Now think about the priests, these priests are act on behalf of people in relation to God. Christ came in the flesh and he became the high priest. He prayed Psalm 88 on our behalf. He is the psalmist. He is the priest. He is the worship leader. He is praying this prayer, the great high priest. He sums up our suffering, sums up our prayer and prays it back to God.

As we go through the Psalm, Jesus felt the same feelings of the psalmist.

Luke 22:41-44 41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Matthew 26:38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

Luke 22:53 Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guards, and the elders, who had come for him, “…this is your hour-when darkness reigns.”

The garden of Gethsemane scene ends with Judas betraying Jesus. Peter denied Jesus three times. The next day, Jesus is tried and sentenced for crucifixion. As Jesus was lying on the cross Matthew records for us: Matthew 27:45-46 45From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Jesus takes every single lament and he prays on our behalf.

God the son, sums up your God forsakenness and prays on your behalf to God.

Your lament is not beyond the capacity of our God. He takes every pain of human suffering and prays it to God, our great high priest. He has prayed all the prayers of lament. He went through such suffering, He rose again from death and he is still praying that prayer for you now as our high priest.

When you go through pain, the pain of death, the loss of a loved one, the pain of covid-19 infection, the pain of loss and rejection, Jesus says, “me too.” I understand the pain of death. I have been there. I have been rejected. I have been through darkness. Jesus comes down into the midst of the darkness and identifies with our suffering and says, “me too. Me too.”

Charles Spurgeon, “God never leaves his children in the furnace without joining them in it.”

“This darkness can happen to a believer, it does not mean that you are lost.

This darkness can happen to someone who does not deserve it, it does not mean you are strayed.

This darkness can happen at any time, as long as this world lasts, because only in the next world such things will be done away with.”

This darkness can happen without you knowing why, but there are answers, there is a purpose and eventually you will know it.

My times of deepest fellowship with Jesus has happened in the deepest feelings of failure, rejection.

My dear friend, take your laments to the Lord Jesus Christ. He understands you pain and he will enable you to overcome your pain and grief.

Take Away Points

1. We Do Not Have Full Control Over Our Lives.

2. Darkness Can Last A Long Time For A Believing Christian.

3. Even In The Midst Of The Worst Circumstances, It Still Is Possible To Talk To God.

4. Our Pain Helps Shape Us For The Future.

5. God Is There In The Darkness And It Is Temporary.

Illustration of pain

“It Is Well with My Soul.” It is a wonderful hymn of trust in God. Spafford wrote this hymn after he had suffered great loss: He lost his 4-year-old son to scarlet fever in 1871, and that same year his business was completely destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. Scarcely two years later, his four daughters perished aboard a ship that sank in mid-Atlantic. Incredibly, Spafford conceived of this hymn shortly after this, as he was on board another ship and passing over the very spot where his daughters had died.6

There is much to be said about silence and pain. “Sometimes we hear God more clearly in our pain.” C.S. Lewis said (in an excellent book titled The Problem of Pain) that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is [God’s] megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (p. 93). God Himself helps us in our weakest hours.

In the Hebrew text the text ends with a single word—darkness—. Darkness is all the psalmist can see as he looks out around him. There is nothing left for him it seems.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German, 1906-1945) “The is Psalms is the prayer book of Jesus Christ. He prayed this prayer and now it has become his prayer for all time. Here we encounter praying Christ. Those who prayer with psalms are joining in with the prayer of Jesus Christ. Their prayer reaches God. Christ has become their intercessor.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German, 1906-1945) “The more deeply we grow into the psalm and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich our prayer will become.”

Gordon Fee, “Psalms like no other literature can lift us to a position where we can commune with God, capturing in a sense the greatness of his kingdom and in a sense what is living with him for eternity will be like.”

Darkness can last a lost time for a believing Christian.

Outwardly he is facing darkness. But inwardly he is facing darkness too. If outwardly if you face darkness but if inwardly you face God’s presence and love, you can make it. That is not what is happening here. He feels rejected, abandoned. He feels that God is gone. By the end of the prayer he is still in darkness. You can be a believing Christian and yet it does not get any better for a long time.

Dark times will teach us there is no better place to learn about the grace of God.

There is no better place to become a person of greatness than in dark times.

Darkness can be relativized. God is there in the darkness and it is temporary.

God knows how people speak when they are desperate. God identifies with us when we pray like that because he is a God of grace.

Jesus Christ experience darkness so that in your darkness you can know that Jesus is your friend. He is still there.

Jesus was truly abandoned so that you will only feel abandoned. God is still there.

When darkness came to him in the garden of Gethsemane, he did not abandon the cross. He loved you and endured the cross. Why would you think he will abandon you?

Michael wilckox “This darkness can happen to a believer, it does not mean that you are lost.

This darkness can happen to someone who does not deserve it, it does not mean you are strayed.

This darkness can happen at any time, as long as this world lasts, because only in the next world such things will be done away with.

This darkness can happen without you knowing why, but there are answers, there is a purpose and eventually you will know it.

Dark times will teach us there is no better place to learn about the grace of God.

Darkness can be relativized.

God knows how people speak when they are desperate. God identifies with us when we pray like that because he is a God of grace.

Jesus Christ experience darkness so that in your darkness you can know that Jesus is your friend. He is still there.

Jesus was truly abandoned so that you will only feel abandoned. God is still there.

When darkness came to him in the garden of Gethsemane, he did not abandon the cross. He loved you and endured the cross. Why would you think he will abandon you?

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