When was the last time you heard a sermon or study on Psalm 88? I would be willing to bet that you never have, especially if you are part of an evangelical/conservative church. We tend to see Christianity as a faith of joy, smiles, and overall goodness depicted by things going well for us. This is at least true in the Western, American church.
Yet Psalm 88 slaps us in the face and reminds us that life isn’t so simple.
Lurking beneath the veneer of happiness and smiling faces lies the reality that life is difficult and God doesn’t always appear as our close friend. The songs we sing where we will always praise God, always feel his close presence, and always be found in some weird form of “boyfriend-girlfriend” type relationship isn’t true.
Reality is found in that we don’t always have this type of experience. Life is difficult and God doesn’t always seem just “a phone call away.” Thankfully, our forebears, the Hebrews, remind us of this in Psalm 88. As Eugene Peterson says, “The Greeks had a story for every situation; the Hebrews had a prayer for every situation.” And for the absence of God they wrote and lived out Psalm 88.
Read it below and allow it to sink in. Maybe our faith needs to be disoriented a bit.
1 LORD, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I 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.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
8 You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
9 my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
11 Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction[e]?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
13 But I cry to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.