O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
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 like those who have no help,
like those forsaken 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 thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades 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 saving help in the land of forgetfulness?
But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast me off?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dread assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
from all sides they close in on me.
You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
my companions are in darkness.
Psalm 88 has to be one of the most depressing pieces of Scripture in the Bible. Whatever is happening to this poor guy, it is too much to bear. As many of the psalms do, he begins with a call to God to listen to his cry. Nothing unusual there. He then lists everything that is wrong with his life and accuses God for being the cause of this misfortune. Again, nothing unusual there as a good chunk of the psalms are about how much people are suffering. This is perfectly correct because life doesn’t go the way we want it to at times – we will experience grief and loss, frustration and isolation. We can turn to God and heap accusations and blame on God’s shoulders because, frankly, God is big enough to take that for us. God sits with us and listens and offers comfort. Usually, however, the psalmist recognises at the end of the psalm the goodness and grace of God. This guy does not. He ends with an accusation, a cry of hopelessness.
So why do I like it so much? It’s because, despite all of that has happened to him, all that he is suffering, he is still talking to God. He hasn’t stopped taking all of his troubles to God. Even though he is not yet ready to acknowledge God and God’s grace and love, he is still talking and sharing his woes. This is important for us to hear. So often people feel they have strayed too far from God to return to any sort of relationship. This is never true. We are never too far out of God’s reach. God’s love is eternal and everlasting and, as humans, we just can’t comprehend that.
So, despite it being incredibly depressing, I love this psalm and I love it because it is so human and guttural. It speaks of how life truly is for some people, and it doesn’t make platitudes or tries to cover it up. Raw life is exposed. And I give thanks to God that it is so.
Rev Claire Dawe