The Bleakest Psalm Is Really a Nightlight

Encouraging words from mature perspective by Jon Bloom:

I read Psalm 88 recently in my devotions, and it filled me with thanksgiving.   Which might seem odd.   Because this psalm just may be the most bleak of the canonical songs.   Take a moment to read it.

_____O Lord, God of my salvation;
__________I cry out day and night before you.
_____Let my prayer come before you;
__________incline your ear to my cry!

_____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,
_____like one set loose among the dead,
__________like the slain that lie in the grave,
_____like those whom you remember no more,
__________for they are cut off from your hand.
_____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.
_____I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
__________my eye grows dim through sorrow.
_____Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
__________I spread out my hands to you.
_____Do you work wonders for the dead?
__________Do the departed rise up to praise you?
_____Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
__________or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
_____Are your wonders known in the darkness,
__________or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

_____But 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?
_____Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
__________I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
_____Your wrath has swept over me;
__________your dreadful assaults destroy me.
_____They surround me like a flood all day long;
__________they close in on me together.
_____You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
__________my companions have become darkness.

Heman the Ezrahite, the apparent composer, was seriously depressed.   Maybe he was chronically ill.   Or maybe, like many, he battled almost constantly against a relentless darkness.   We really don’t know.   But he said he had been this way since his youth (v. 15).   He felt abandoned by God (v. 14), his beloved (v. 18), and companions (v. 8).   He was desperate and his prayers seemed to be going unanswered (vv. 13-14).   He was so overwhelmed that he felt close to death (vv. 3, 15).

So why did this psalm make me feel so thankful? Simply because God mercifully included it in the Bible.   I find that amazing.

This song is a cry for help to a God who seems angry and distant.   Admittedly, that doesn’t seem very encouraging at first.   I mean, if I had consulted God about songwriting and what his hymns should include, I would have taken this one to him and said, “This psalm needs at least a verse or two of some hopeful promise.   And, really, the last word of the song shouldn’t be ‘darkness.’   Way too heavy.”

But God wisely didn’t consult me.   He knows there are moments for saints when things look so bleak that all we can do is cry a lament to him.   We cry, “Where are you?   I know you’re there and I know there’s light, but I can’t see it!   Please, please show me!”

I’ve been there.   I’ve known that kind of darkness.   And this psalm is a gift from God to his children.   It’s a song for them to sing during the desolate moments, which one day will be swallowed up in unending light.

There are other psalms one should meditate on in such times, like Psalm 27 and Psalm 139. And the Bible as a whole resounds with hope.   But Psalm 88 is a merciful reminder from God that the experience of darkness is “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13), that when we’re in it we are not as alone as we feel, and that he is with us after all.

Isn’t it just like God to make a bleak psalm a light for those who sit in darkness?

“…even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you” (Psalm 139:12).

Related Articles