When I learned to paint pictures, I learned how to see. One of the things I saw was how colors changed depending on the light. In addition, without sufficient light, shadows would often envelop the object I painted and distort its true shape. The same is true with our lives. Sadness, anxiety, and depression, can often block the light of our spirit and extinguish who we are. Our colorful world then becomes grey, dull, and even dark. We soon find ourselves existing as mere shadows of ourselves. For many, the Christmas season becomes a monumental struggle to appear outwardly jolly in the midst of inner sorrow and despair. Fortunately, despite what we feel, God is willing to hear us if we would only cry out to Him. Psalm 88 carries the saddest of tunes sung by a man who, for the while, can see nothing but shadow and darkness.
It is in the Psalm writer’s elaborate description of hopelessness that I find comfort. How can this be so, you may ask. Because any man or woman who can talk to their God in such a way as the writer of this Psalm does, must have had a history with that same God. The writer speaks of his pitiful state and remarks about missing God’s wonders, steadfast love, and righteousness. Grief implies loss, and loss implies having once had something.
Here are the phrases I see the Psalm writer use to describe his condition…..
“Full of trouble, near to Sheol (the place of the dead), counted among those who go down to the pit (the grave), like a man who has no help or strength (a mere shadow) cast away among the dead, like the slain that lie in a nameless grave remembered no more, cut off from God’s hand, laid in the depths of the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps, away from familiar friends and even made an abomination to them, (I wonder if they avoided him in his sadness?) shut up, cannot come forth, eyes dimmed by sorrow and affliction, afflicted, close to death, distracted, faint, swept over, destroyed, surrounded, closed in, estranged from lover and friend, familiar with darkness and the grave.
Here are the actions the writer seems to be taking as he writes this Psalm. These actions are his effort to change his situation. Please note the very first verse in the Psalm expresses his first action. He acknowledges God as, “the God of my salvation.” He knows where his rescue must come from.
“O Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried to you for help by day; at night I am in your presence. Let my prayer come before You and really enter into Your presence; incline Your ear to my cry.”
Also in verse 9 he says, “My eyes grow dim because of sorrow and affliction. Lord, I have called on You; I have spread forth my hands to You.”
Again in verse 13 he says, “But to You I cry, O Lord; and in the morning shall my prayer come to meet You.”
Expectant crying, praying, and holding out his hands to the one he knew as his salvation, is the actions the Psalm writer took.
The Psalm writer also asked God questions.
Many people will say that asking God questions about our suffering is a sin. Why? If we are His children, then why wouldn’t we ask Him—the one who knows everything—for an answer? I believe the danger lies not in the asking but in the conditions we make concerning our question and how that affects our faith. For instance, there is harm in saying, “God, if you don’t tell me why this happened I’ll never speak to you again.” Or,“God, if You don’t give me a reasonable explanation, I can’t believe in You.”
Look at the questions, starting at verse 10, that the Psalmist asks God. Beside them is the meaning I take from them.
Will You show wonders to the dead? (Help me because I am alive and can see Your wonders!)
Shall the departed arise and praise You? (Help me, because I am still living and capable of praising to You on this earth.)
Shall Your steadfast love be declared in the grave? (Help me, because I am alive and can speak of Your steadfast love.)
Or Your faithfulness in Abaddon (Sheol –place of ruin and destruction) (Help me, because I am alive and can declare Your faithfulness.)
Shall Your wonders be known in the dark? And Your righteousness in the place of forgetfulness? (where the dead forget and are forgotten) (Help me, because I am alive and I will remember Your wonders.)
Even though Psalm 88 is a very sad Psalm, it has wonderful tips about what to do if you are facing a difficult time in your life. First and foremost is this. You have to stay alive and acknowledge that your life’s rescue comes from God. Don’t quit or give up. Secondly, there is no limit on the time you can spend praying, crying, and even howling to God. This Psalm shows us that. God does not charge by the hour or ask you to come back next week. Know from this reading that God IS at work. Even if you encounter a stretch of time where you cannot see or feel His power, understand ( like this Psalm writer did) that God hears you and knows your name. Ask Him to show you His hand, and be ready to have a little color painted back into your shadows!
(For the record, I believe God uses people, doctors, counselors, medication, and anything He wants to bring us health and healing if this is His plan. If His plan includes us having to live with a condition or difficulty, I believe He also provides for this. Either way, we are covered, if we choose to believe and trust in Him.)
“Oh God, hear our prayers. Thank you for listening to the cries of those who are suffering and call out to You. Show them a bit of Your hand and what You are accomplishing. Save them from the one who lies and would destroy and lure them out of this life. Give them the courage to continue. Let them find Your strength to carry on. May a splash of Your color and light in this Christmas season invade their troubled souls and bring rest to their anxious hearts. You are the calmer of troubled seas, the hanger of stars, the maker of this great universe, but You care most deeply for the heart that is lost. Let them see this, O God, let them see! Amen.”