Psalm 88 – the Giant of Lament Psalms

I spent some time reflecting upon Psalm 88 last week. It is – without doubt – a Psalm of lament. But, unlike other lament Psalms which express difficulty yet end in stated hope in God, this one ends in darkness (literally, the final word is darkness). There were a few things that struck me in my reflections…

  1. This is a man whose faith is hanging by a thread – and yet he continues to pray! There is, in the difficult yet ongoing prayer of a desperate follower of Jesus, an inherent glimmer of hope for relief.
  2. The prayer of such a desperate person, which doesn’t seem to yield answers (easy or not), should remind us that prayer is a struggle whose fruits often go unseen. As Pastor Ligon Duncan argues, we should be patient with brothers and sisters who find themselves desperately struggling to continue in faithful prayer.
  3. This Psalm – which could be prayed by a man or woman dying of cancer, for instance – reminds us that there are not always happy endings in this life. As believers, we should recognise that the grace to endure difficulty is an answer to prayer; but relief from suffering is not to be expected in this life. Faithful followers of Jesus regularly die of cancer…seemingly innocent children meet tragic ends…Auschwitz was a real place. This life does not always end well. Of course, we, as Jesus followers recognise that this life is not all there is.
  4. Further to this point, followers of Jesus also recognise that this life is as bad as things will get. We look forward to a day where there will be no pain, or trial, or death camps, or cancer. We endure the difficulty of this life, but for a short time. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. For those who do not trust in Jesus, this life – with its pain and difficulty – is as good as it gets. The next life holds out no hope for relief, only increased suffering and eternal separation from the Life-giving God.
  5. Finally, as Ligon Duncan points out, verses 10-12 appear differently to us on this side of the cross. We know that there was One who DID go to death in order to rescued its captives – Jesus. He is the ultimate hope of the one who feels weighed down by hardship in this life.

If you feel like this Psalmist, hang in there. Even if death comes, for the believer, it is just the transition to a new life. I’m reminded of 2 quotes. I’ll just leave you with those…

“I hang by a thread, but it is a thread of Christ’s spinning.” – Scottish Puritan Samuel Rutherford

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – Jesus in John 5:24

A brief article from Ligon Duncan on Psalm 88

A longer sermon from Ligon Duncan on Psalm 88 (from which the article is derived)