Saturday, February 12, 2011


Psalm 88 is the most dark and depressing of all the Psalms.  It's a suffering cry of a person that expects his future days on earth to be few.  Abandoned and isolated, the character calls out to the God of his salvation, with the expectation of hope that seems to never come.  Sounds like an average day?  

Psalm 88 is the only Psalm in the Old Testament that does not eventually end with the author's usual revelation of redemption, and the subtle shadow of joy and hope.  There is no climactic realization of God's goodness and provision that is the pattern of most Psalms.  There is no eventual release from pain.  There is no usual epiphany that God's reality overshadows the darkness in which he finds himself.  The Psalm is a progression of pain and suffering that does not rise and fall, but is a static lamenting plea of a mournful and despondent character.  This is a person in deep distress, abandon of friendship, love and, from his clouded perspective, abandon by God as well.  Ever felt that way? 

In reading this Psalm many times, I concluded that such misery, without apparent eventual relief, is not consistent with most Scripture.  The essence of the Bible is a string of redemptive love stories, causing us to believe that despite our circumstances, God's transcendent love will eventually overwhelm our pain as we allow His Spirit to propel us forward.  To me, the Bible is the ultimate love story of a God that calls out, romances, delights in and showers His children with the unconditional love we all long for deep within the recesses of our soul.  Surely, there must be some hidden redemptive truth lying somewhere just below the surface of the character's pain in Psalm 88.  And I think there is.

More than likely, Psalm 88 is a picture of a person who has possibly fallen to his lowest point of his life.  Whether it's bad decisions, consuming sin or emotional sickness that has overwhelmed him, he stands defeated, crushed beneath the weight of a darker side of life and racked with the grief of his life situation.  The spiral has pulled him down into the pits of suffering, and despite his attempts at clawing his way out, he only slides further beneath the surface.  Helpless, he cries out to God, as a child begging his father to take the pain away.

Why is there no climax of relief?  Why does God's light not shine though the darkness and alleviate the authors pain?  Why does he appear abandoned by God?  I think the answer lies in the word "appear".  As a father, there is nothing I would not do for my two boys.  If they feel pain, emotional or physical, I will do anything within my power to remove it from their lives.  But there is certain pain that comes from choices made and situations they stumble into, especially as they grow older.  My love and identity as dad never changes, but sometimes my ability to turn the "pain switch" off is limited.  To them, it may appear that I'm sadistically standing by as they hurt in their isolated dimension of suffering.  But in realty, I suffer with them, feeling pain that equals the love I have for them.  Dad never stops loving his boys, and never stops being dad. 

The overwhelming realization is that for the author of Psalm 88, God never stops being God.  He remains who he is throughout this dark scenario, and continues to be God when the Psalmist laments the fact that his friends have abandoned him.  In his isolation, the writer does not seem to lose sight of that basic fact, and perhaps this is the redemption that will eventually carry him through  to the obscure hope we fail to apparently see.  This forthcoming redemption is the missing hope that we see in most of the other Psalms.  The author, acknowledging his very real pain, also acknowledges God's power and attributes as they truly are.  The unchanging and consistent existence of God is the thread that brings forth the hope we might miss in Psalm 88, and the author may fail to see as well.  

God doesn't change; we change.  As we live our lives from day to day, we sometimes get sucked into the darker corners of existence.  Places that we don't want to remain.  Places from which we long to escape.  Sometimes we change.  Sometimes to don't.  The point is, even if we decide to remain isolated, unmoved and indulging in our self made darkness, God remains just as He was before we decided to allow the spiral to plunge us below.  Psalm 88 is the quintessential image of a person that suffers, like many of us do from time to time.  And regardless of the duration of the author's suffering, the light of hope still shines through.  I wonder if he knew it at the time?

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