For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness
Sometimes life looks helpless. We are exhausted from this relentless climb uphill against the ongoing challenge of circumstances and people. We have tried to overcome the challenge that keeps pushing us backward. Sometimes, no matter how much we pray, even God seems silent.
Psalm 88 has been called the saddest Psalm of the Psalter. From beginning to end there is this desperate state of being crushed by the challenges of life. Here is a brief overview of the Psalm:
88:1-9 – The Calamity of Life
88:10-12 – The Crisis of Inevitable Death
88:13-18 – The Confusion of the Silence of God
There are three places in this Psalm where we are specifically told of the prayers to God (v. 1-2, 9, 13). There are two times we are told God does not respond (v. 2, 14). The anguish of his soul is palpable. His desperation is heart-wrenching (v. 9). The Psalmist captures his circumstances as excruciating and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no response from God and no end to the crucible of suffering.
What is distinct about this Psalm is that there is no statement of trust, no confidence of hope, no assurance of God’s response. His pleas fall on deaf ears. His requests are ignored and his intercession provides no hope. In fact the Psalmist’s conclusion is that he has fallen under God’s judgment and punishment (v. 15-16). So, you might ask, what is the point of this Psalm?
1. Sometimes life throws things at us that we can’t handle. Whoever came up with the adage that God will never allow anything to happen to you that you can’t handle, must have lived a pretty sheltered life. The reflection of genuine faith is not that we can handle everything that is thrown at us. Sometimes the problems and circumstances of life are bigger than our ego and our ability to handle it.
2. Sometimes God is silent and does not answer us. We know that God is bigger than our problems but there are times, when we are in the middle of those circumstances that it does not seem like it. God feels distant; God feels silent; God appears to be indifferent; God appears to abandon us or unwilling to help. There is no good solution to our situation nor is there any resolution to God’s silence.
3. Sometimes God does not fix or change our suffering. If we think about God’s Son, he suffered through his betrayal, trial and crucifixion. From a human perspective there was no resolution, no hope, no solution and no answer from God that we would have invited praise and worship. For this moment, this time frame, there is no response from God. We have a hard time of not knowing the outcome because we believe that inevitably God is obligated to give a divine response.
4. Sometimes our suffering affects our relationships. Sometimes the things we go through cause others to reject us. We are not told in this Psalm if these issues are circumstantial or character; if this suffering is done to him or is the consequence of immoral choices. Verse eight indicates, “Thou hast made me an object of loathing to them”; “Thou has removed lover and friend far from me; my acquaintances are in darkness” (v. 8, 18). There does not seem to be comfort, resolution or reconciliation. There is no restoration of those that you would expect to help.
5. Sometimes we feel like we are alone. The one aspect of this Psalm is that he feels alone. He is the only one in this predicament and he is crushed by these hardships. No one to comfort, not even God. There is a struggle for resolution and there is not a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
I would expect that most Christians will vigorously dislike this Psalm.
The Psalmist leaves us hanging with no resolution… a place very uncomfortable for us. That being said, this is where many Christians are living right now. Quite the Psalm to feel trapped in… but that is often how many of us feel… isn’t it?
Pastor Brad Little