After a recent talk I gave, an attendee shared that Psalm 88 was her favorite psalm. For those of us familiar with it, we might hear such a comment and raise our eyebrows in confusion.
Psalm 88? Really?
Psalm 88 isn’t a feel-good, everything-will-be-all-right kind of psalm. In fact, it’s the darkest one. If we put it to music, it’d be set to the tune of a sad country song—if not a funeral dirge. Hear the despair of the psalmist’s words:
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. (vv. 1–3)
Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. (v. 7)
O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? (v. 14)
While other biblical laments end on a note of trust and worship, this one ends without any light or hope. It simply concludes, “Darkness is my closest friend.” The end.
Despite the dark tone, however, there is hope to be found in Psalm 88. Here are four reasons.
1. You can cry out to God.
The psalmist persistently directs his emotions and sorrow to his Father in heaven. He acknowledges God is the one who saves and reigns over all things (vv. 1, 6–8). His anguish is the faithful cry of a believer who understands his need of God’s deliverance and help.
When you’re in the depths of suffering, the psalmist’s words give voice to your pain. You can bring your uninhibited emotions before God as you pour out your heart. In your distress, he hears your cries.
2. You can share your deepest pain.
Like hymns today, the psalms were used in worship—yes, even Psalm 88. That this song was proclaimed by God’s people speaks volumes. It also offers hope, since it’s clear God doesn’t expect us to cover up what’s really going on. We can approach our Father in raw honesty. We don’t have to pretend everything’s okay. We don’t have to hide the pain, the emotions, the distress.
At the same time, Psalm 88 reminds us whom we are praying to: our Maker and King. In his humility, the psalmist’s honest sorrow differs greatly from the faithless grumbling of the Israelites in the wilderness. He reminds himself—and us—that God saves (v. 1) and that his deeds are righteous (v. 11). He shows us that we can express our deepest heartache in a way that honors God, rather than grumbling against him.
3. You can grieve the darkness.
Psalm 88 is brutally honest about life in a fallen world. While many of us come out of depressive fogs and spiritually dark seasons, there are others who perpetually struggle. Some preach a false theology that says if you jsut pray hard enough, believe hard enough, and do all the right things, God will make your life all that you’ve wanted it to be. But real life indicates otherwise. And so does this psalm.
The sun doesn’t always come out tomorrow. We don’t always get the job we wanted. Marriages end. People get sick and die. This is the far-reaching effect of sin on this world. Psalm 88 reflects our pain and give us permission to grieve all that isn’t right.
4. You can trust your Savior.
All Scripture points to Christ, and Psalm 88 is no exception. For what the psalmist sought in his lament was answered in Jesus, who came to rescue and restore what’s broken. He came to fulfill the deepest cries of our heart. He came so that one day all our tears might be wiped away.
Psalm 88 reminds us that we need an intercessor. We don’t always know what is best. Many times, we don’t even know how to pray. Jesus intercedes on our behalf, reshaping our prayers for God’s glory. Not only that, but the Spirit also prays for us. When we can’t find the words to voice what our hearts long to say, he cries out for us (Rom. 8:26). What marvelous grace and love! What comfort! Even when the pains of life mute us, the Spirit speaks for us.
I’m so grateful Psalm 88 is included in Scripture. It reminds me that I can cry out to God with a broken heart and that he hears me—no matter how weak my prayers. It directs me to focus on the truth of who God is, for even in the darkest night, his grace still shines. And when it seems as though darkness is my only friend, I can remember Jesus Christ, who faced the darkness of the grave so that I could be called a friend of God.