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Psalm 88’s Desperate Ending

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.

I am counted among those who go down to the pit;

I am a man who has no strength,

like one set loose 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. Selah

You have caused my companions to shun me;

you have made me a horror to them.

I am shut in so that I cannot escape;

my eye grows dim through sorrow.

Every day I call upon you, O LORD;

I spread out my hands to you.

Do you work wonders for the dead?

Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah

Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,

or your faithfulness in Abaddon?

Are your wonders known in the darkness,

or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

But I, O LORD, cry to you;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?

Why do you hide your face from me?

Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,

I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.

Your wrath has swept over me;

your dreadful assaults destroy me.

They surround me like a flood all day long;

they close in on me together.

You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;

my companions have become darkness.

I know all the chapters and verses were added later, but it still begs the question, why does this psalm end the way it does? Why did the formatters decide to end Psalm 88 with. “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.”

Who thought that this was a good idea?

Sometimes in Christianity, we enjoy tying things up in neat happy little bows a little too much. We think, people of God “prosper” so we seek the silver lining in everything. Sometimes we make one and toss it up into the cloud, so we can say, “there it is!” When people do that, they make Christianity less real to me. 

Psalm 88 resets me.

The Psalms contain a wide collection of emotions. They don’t ever seem to shy away from the pain and hurt of real life. They don’t hide away from the internal struggle of the author with their sins, or their fear of being separated from God. They are definitely an in your face kind of honesty of the original writers. We might update the language a bit, but in our most honest take, when we read through the Psalms, it is the closest thing to finding ourselves in the pages of scripture. 

Psalm 88 does that for me more than any other Psalm. Despite its gloominess and utter desperation and brokenness that ends in as poor a spirit as it began, it gives me more hope than any other Psalm. It tells me these feelings are real. It tells me I can cry out with honest and frustrating words, and God hears it. I can be sure that even in my sin God allows me to speak to him. 

For many years, I was told my sin created a barrier-a ceiling, and my words and prayers to God would rise up unheard as they stop at some kind of spiritual ceiling of my own making, never to break free. My sin had kept God away from me, from my voice, from my desperate cries. 

Why would my prayers be desperate then? Who has desperate prayers but the sinful man who feels forsaken by God, undone by his own actions. Who has desperate prayers but the one overcome by their circumstances and brokenness. Where else could he go, if his words aren’t heard by a God purported by scripture to be gracious and merciful? Why bother even speaking? Then I read:    

I am a man who has no strength,

like one set loose 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.

Wait… that sounds desperate? We might not phrase quite that way now, but I recognize the heart behind these words. I recognize the weariness of feeling like someone who is apart from the one who says He is hope in our time of need, our strength when weak, our righteousness when sinner. In my own words I have felt so apart from God, so exposed by my filthiness, that I felt dragged out from behind the cleft of the rock where he kept me. More importantly, these words are a part of God’s sacred text, for now and forever. Words of a sinful man, whom others might say can’t reach God’s ears. This is hope that God hears them all.

Despite feeling apart from God, feeling like a sinner cut off from God, this is what gives me additional hope:

But I, O LORD, cry to you;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?

In his utter and complete desperation, no hint of rescue or relief in sight, the psalmist continues to call out to God, and you can see right here that he has the faith to believe that God still hears them. This is his hope. Consider even those Psalms that end in a high note, the rising crescendo of praising God often found at the end, is still full of desperation. It is someone crying out to God for an answer, not that he has the answer yet. The end of those Psalms simply end with more of an affirmation of expectation than the more honest pessimism of Psalm 88. This is why I love this Psalm so much. This is why you should too. 

This Psalm is an invitation from God to be real. He’s not saying you have to put a “bow of outward praise” on the end of your personal lamentation every time you feel broken and tired. This encourages me to come to him more, because this is a more natural cry to me. It’s who I am. So I come to God, and speak my real mind in my heartache, and… don’t tell the the rest of the church this, but… I’ve cursed on an occasion or two in these honest laments.

I just want you to understand that God still hears you. The “in-the-moment, desperate sinner, doesn’t sound at all like a christian”, you! The only people that come to God with desperate prayers are sinners. (Jesus Excluded) That means you are in very good company. An army of followers compiled over centuries that came before you, cried out to God with that same kind of energy. 

Despite all of that, crying out to what you think is a very silent God, is still hard. I wish I could say it took a special kind of faith to hang on in the midst of it. But I know those moments too well. Faith in God feels threadbare in those moments. It feels hard to hang on. 

I try to comprehend what it means to cry out to God and not have an immediate answer, one that you can hang your hat on and feel your faith confidently growing, and the only thing I can think of is my son Isaac. 

Isaac as a little toddler suffered from severe eczema from all over his body. At night in his bed, my wife and I would find him half awake, almost in a trance-like state, scratching and clawing at his skin, unconsciously grasping for relief from his pain. He would barely notice his mother or I taking over from him, replacing his deep digging with a gentle rub over his exposed open wounds with a thick medicated cream. Soon he would be asleep again, no more scratching. Hardly aware that we were even there, helping to relieve his pain. All he knew in that moment is something must have felt better.

We cry out to God, needing his help. Desperate for relief, sometimes feeling as if he is never there with us. But he is there, often beyond our simple comprehension of that truth, because we want a tangible expression of his nearness in those moments. Forgetting that he is as near as his words written down for us. 

Thanks to Psalm 88, His Words says cry out even when its hard and nothing immediately looks better. Psalm 88 says that He hears you, because He is still near.

He is always near.

He will never leave us or forsake us, no matter our desperation, no matter our weakness. He is near.

Blessings to you this day. 

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