I love the psalms. They have met me in every season of life since I was twelve years old. The psalmists’ raw honesty make them relatable. There have been dark periods of my life when I have wondered, “Can things be any worse?” And then I read the psalms. Yes. Yes, they can.
Psalm 88 is considered by some theologians to be the darkest psalm of the psalter. Heman acknowledges in verse one that God is the only One who can save him, saying, “Lord, the God of my salvation,” but things go downhill quickly.
Heman complains of being near death, abandoned as one who is dead, without strength, without friend or lover, and engulfed in terrors and sufferings that add up to great physical and emotional turmoil. He felt forgotten by God.
What is unique about this song is that it doesn’t offer us the usual story shift. You know, the one when everything turns out all right, or at least when the psalmist’s heart changes to praise despite his despair. Why? Are we missing the end of the psalm? No, there is purpose behind this difficult ending.
Though he suffered in his darkest place, Heman was undeterred in crying out all day and night to the Lord, the God he knew to be his salvation. We see Heman’s efforts in verses 1, 2, 9, and 13. His earnest and fervent prayers were continually offered from his place of grief, believing God would eventually answer.
This type of faithful, active prayer brings change, not to God, but to us. Charles Spurgeon says, “Evil is transformed to good when it drives us to prayer.” When I am in the pit, my prayers are more desperate, more consistent, more meaningful, and more poignant. The act of being driven to prayer, though difficult, yields great reward: more good!
Psalm 88 shouldn’t be seen as a depressing, sad story without an appropriate ending. Rather, it is the struggle of one man in his personal pit of despair. But he struggled before God! This is beautiful. This is faith!
Lord, the God of my salvation,
I have cried out by day and in the night before You.
2 Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry!
3 For my soul has had enough troubles,
And my life has approached Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I have become like a man without strength,
5 Abandoned among the dead,
Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom You no longer remember,
And they are cut off from Your hand.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
In dark places, in the depths.
7 Your wrath has rested upon me,
And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah
8 You have removed my acquaintances far from me;
You have made me an object of loathing to them;
I am shut up and cannot go out.
9 My eye grows dim from misery;
I have called upon You every day, Lord;
I have spread out my hands to You.
10 Will You perform wonders for the dead?
Or will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah
11 Will Your graciousness be declared in the grave,
Your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness?
And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But I, Lord, have cried out to You for help,
And in the morning my prayer comes before You.
14 Lord, why do You reject my soul?
Why do You hide Your face from me?
15 I was miserable and about to die from my youth on;
I suffer Your terrors; I grow weary.
16 Your burning anger has passed over me;
Your terrors have destroyed me.
17 They have surrounded me like water all day long;
They have encircled me altogether.
18 You have removed lover and friend far from me;
My acquaintances are in a hiding place.