Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Psalm 88 - Nightlight in the Dark

"...even the darkness is not dark to You;
the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You"
Psalm 139:12
1O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out to You by day.
I come to You at night.
2Now hear my prayer;
listen to my cry.
3For my life is full of troubles,
and deathb draws near.
4I am as good as dead,
like a strong man with no strength left.
5They have left me among the dead,
and I lie like a corpse in a grave.
I am forgotten,
cut off from Your care.
6You have thrown me into the lowest pit,
into the darkest depths.
7Your anger weighs me down;
with wave after wave You have engulfed me.
8You have driven my friends away
by making me repulsive to them.
I am in a trap with no way of escape.
9My eyes are blinded by my tears.
Each day I beg for Your help, O LORD;
I lift my hands to You for mercy.
10Are Your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead?
Do the dead rise up and praise You?
11Can those in the grave declare Your unfailing love?
Can they proclaim Your faithfulness in the place of destruction?c
12Can the darkness speak of Your wonderful deeds?
Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about Your righteousness?
13O LORD, I cry out to You.
I will keep on pleading day by day.
14O LORD, why do You reject me?
Why do You turn your face from me?
15I have been sick and close to death since my youth.
I stand helpless and desperate before Your terrors.
16Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me.
Your terrors have paralyzed me.
17They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.
They have engulfed me completely.
18You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend.

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.
Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence 

Heman the Ezrahite, the Psalm 88 composer, was seriously depressed. Maybe he was chronically ill. Or maybe, like many, he battled almost constantly against a relentless darkness. I really don't know.  He said he had been this way since his youth (v. 15). He felt abandoned by God (v. 14), his beloved (v. 18), and companions (v. 8). He was desperate and his prayers seemed to be going unanswered (vv. 13-14). He was so overwhelmed that he felt close to death (vv. 3, 15). 

This song is a cry for help to a God who seems angry and distant. Admittedly, it doesn't seem  encouraging at all. I mean, if I had consulted God about songwriting and what His hymns should include, I would have taken this one to Him and said, "This psalm needs at least a verse or two of some hopeful promise. And, really, the last word of the song shouldn't be 'darkness.’ Way too heavy." 

But God wisely didn't consult me. He knows there are moments for saints when things look so bleak that all we can do is cry a lament to Him. It is a cry, of "Where are you? I know you're there and I know there's light, but I can't see it! Please, please show me!"

I've been there. I've known that kind of darkness. And this Psalm is a gift from God to His children. It's a song for them to sing during the desolate moments, which one day will be swallowed up in unending light.

Jesus has been there. On the darkest of days, from a hill called the Skull, after He cried forsaken, after He said it’s finished, after they locked the stony seal over the gloomiest grave, Jesus went there. And He went there for me.

He swallowed the real darkness so that, as abandoned as His people might feel, as alienated as their worlds might seem, He never lets them go there alone. He walks that road with us. He prays those prayers with us. He fills us with His Spirit, and lifts our burdened souls by His grace. By His cross and victory, because He looked death in the eyes and came back to life three days later, Jesus holds us when it hurts. He leads us to worship in the dark.

It is just like God to make a bleak psalm a light for those who sit in darkness!