ďThe Lord in the DarknessĒ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† July 6, 2014

Psalm 88

 

SI:Weíre spending the summer in the Psalms.

Iím taking an eclectic approach, jumping around to different Psalms,

†† looking at some lesser-known Psalms,

†† getting a taste for the great variety of the Psalms.

 

Psalm 88 is unique.

Someone has called it ďthe darkest, saddest Psalm . . .

†† a wail of sorrow from beginning to end.Ē


 

INTRO:I once saw a billboard that said:

†† Lonely?

†† Confused?

†† Angry?

†† Depressed?

†† Jesus is the answer.

I admire the conviction and commitment of fellow Christians who put up

†† billboards like that for evangelistic purposesó

†† but I did wonder if that particular billboard sent an unintended message.

That when you find Jesus, youíre no longer lonely, confused, angry, or depressed.

†† That Christians donít struggle with those things because they have faith.

 

There are some churches that do preach that message.

†† If you have enough faith, you can name and claim your best life now.

†† If youíre having struggles, itís because you donít have enough faith.

†† When you get more faith, you can banish all those negative things

†† with positive thoughts and positive speech.

Iím talking about the Prosperity Gospel, the Word-Faith Movement.

†† Unfortunately, itís preached in the pulpits of many churches in America.

 

I have absolutely no idea how a name it-claim it preacher would preach Psalm 88.

†† That would be interesting.

I guess he would say that this Psalm shows what happens

†† when you donít have enough faith.

But the man who wrote this Psalm did have faith.

†† John Calvin says heís a man with ďinvincible steadfastness of faith.Ē

†† From the beginning to the end heís talking to the Lord.

†† He has a profoundly deep theology.

And along with faith, this Heman the Ezrahite, whoever he was,

†† speaks with a kind of unrelieved pain that is unique in the Psalms.

 

You know how many of the Psalms start out with the writer crying

†† to God about the sorrows and troubles in his life.

O Lord, how many are my foes.O Lord, my soul is in despairóthat sort of thing.

†† And then the Psalms all follow a typical pattern.

After telling God about their problems, they pray and ask for deliverance.

†† And then there is a shift, and the Lord answers their prayers.

He changes their situation or he gives them courage.

 

And it always ends with the Psalm writer back on a firm footing.

†† Heís confident.Heís joyful.Heís praising God.

†† I know itís all going to be ok because God is in control and he loves me.

Thatís the pattern all the Psalms except this one.

 

The Lutheran commentator H.C. Leupold wrote:

ďIt is the gloomiest psalm found in the Scriptures.The psalmist is as deeply in trouble

†† when he has concluded his prayer as he was when he began it.Ē

 

So why is this gloomy Psalm in the Bible?

To show us Jesus, of course.

†† To show us that Jesus loves his troubled children who are in such a deep,

†† black pit of depression that they donít even feel that he loves them

†† or listens to them anymore.

 

Itís a very focused Psalm for a very particular problem.

Even if this is not your problem, you need to see how the Lord deals with

†† his fearful and troubled saints, so you can approach your hurting friends

†† with the same compassion.

 

And so you understand if you ever go through this lonesome valley.

And so that you can praise the Lord for his mercy and grace.

 

This Psalm doesnít follow the typical pattern,

†† more stream of consciousness with three big themes.

Letís look at it under those three themes:

†† The Anguish

†† The Argument

†† The Answer

 


 

MP#1 The Anguish

What do we call this pain?

†† Melancholy, depression, the dark night of the soul, the black dog?

Martin Luther suffered from it and he called it Anfechtungen.

†† Everything sounds worse in German.

Anfechtungenótrials, tribulations, assaults, a state of hopelessness

†† and helplessness.Apparently itís hard to translate into English.

 

The Psalmist feels like he is dead inside.

†† My soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave.

†† I am counted among those who go down to the pit.

†† I am like a man without strength.

†† I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave.

†† I am confined and cannot escape.

That was written 3,000 years ago, but thatís exactly how people today describe it.

†† Iím in a pit.Iím going down.I feel dead.I feel trapped.

So this is a universal human experience.

 

But what sets this Psalm apart from common human experience is

†† his interpretation of it.Where did this come from?

We live in a materialistic age.People look for purely materialistic answers.

†† Many people think problems like this are all chemistry, all brain chemistry.

†† But itís not just brain chemistry.Itís not purely physiological.

That may be a part of whatís going on with this man, perhaps even a big part.

†† But itís certainly not all.

 

And his condition is not just psychological either.

†† Heman was an artist, he was a poet.He was probably an introvert.

Some might say this is just a musicianís temperament.

†† Itís just a depressive personality.

Once again, that may be one piece of this puzzle.

†† Thereís a little hint in that direction when he says:

†† From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death.

So heís struggled with this all his life.But thatís not his focus either.

 

Was this condition triggered by a loss of some kind, a tragedy, abuse?

Maybe that was a factor too, he hints at loved ones and companions taken away.

†† But what does Heman himself say was the ultimate cause?††

†† He says it was the Lord.The Lord did this to him.

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

†† Your wrath lies heavily upon me.

†† You have taken my companions from me.

†† I have suffered from your terrors and am in despair.

†† You have overwhelmed me with your waves.

†† All day long they surround me like a flood, they have completely engulfed me.

Have you ever gotten trapped in the surf at the beach?

†† A big wave knocks you down and tumbles you around and you try to get up

†† and then another one hits you and you swallow a big gulp of saltwater.

 

Thatís what it feels like to him, but it doesnít let upó

†† and he says itís God himself who keeps sending wave after wave after wave.

And even though he prays for it to stop, his prayers seem to bounce off ceiling.

†† I cry to you for help, O Lord, in the morning my prayer comes before you.

†† Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?

 

In 1978 Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote When Bad Things Happen To Good People,

†† after the death of his 14-year-old son to cancer.

His argument was that when you suffer, God has nothing to do with it.

†† He hates what you are going through.

†† He would love to help you, but he canít because heís not in control.

God only the God of the good things.

†† There are other shadowy deities or forces out there responsible for suffering.

When you come to terms with the fact that God has nothing at all to do with your

†† suffering and no control over it, then you can relax and get some spiritual relief.

†† Kushnerís idea obviously resonated with lots of peopleóbook NYT bestseller.

 

But the inspired writer of Psalm 88 didnít believe that.Not for a minute.

†† He believed that the Lord is in control, that the Lord is sovereign,

†† even over the mental and emotional anguish he was in.

The Lord.Did you notice itís all capital letters in your Bible.

†† Thatís tells us that itís the covenant nameóYahweh.

The name God gave his people when he bound himself to them

†† and promised to save them on account of his covenant with Abraham.

 

Heman saysóthat God did this to me.The Lord, Yahweh, Jehovah.

†† The God of my father Abraham.The God of Israel.The God of my salvation.

Heís the one who has done this to me.

†† So heís the one I must cry out to for relief.

†† It will never come from anywhere else.

That bring us to the next theme.

MP#2The Argument

He challenges God with a series of questions

†† Do you show your wonders among the dead?

†† Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?

†† Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction?

†† Are you wonders known in the place of darkness,your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?††

He says to the Lord:This thing is killing me.

And if I die, you wonít be getting any praise from me because death is the end.

 

Whatís the hole in Hemanís argument?The resurrection.Eternal life.

†† The Lord has done the very things Heman claims canít be done.

Do you show your wonders among the dead?

†† Yes, says the Lord.I will.

Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?

As a matter of fact, they will.

Is your love declared in the grave?

†† Yes, in my Sonís grave, the greatest love is declared.

Are your wonders known in the place of darkness?

Yes, in the deepest darkness cross, so that my people might have eternal light.

 

Some scholars have said passages like this one prove Old Testament

†† believers didnít know about heaven and eternal life and the resurrection.

But thatís certainly not correct. They didnít know all that we know,

†† living as we do after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But even back then, God had revealed the hope of eternal life through Messiah.

†† We saw it last week in Psalm 49.A very vibrant faith in the resurrection.

 

So whatís going on here?

I think itís something that sometimes happens to believers in this condition.

†† They still believe.They believe in God and heaven and the resurrection

†† and the love of Christ and that all things work together for good.

But they donít feel like those things are true for them.

†† Like Heman, they are in such a state of despair, that the work of Jesus Christ

†† and the hope of the resurrection donít bring them any comfort.

 

You know the name William Cowper, the great English hymn writer.

†† God Moves in A Mysterious Way, There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,

†† He wrote hundreds of hymns and poems.

When six years old, his mother died.

Maids told him that his mother away on a trip, would be coming back.

†† It only increased his anguish and confusion and prevented him from healing.

His father disoriented by wifeís death, so shipped Cowper off to boarding school.

†† He so horribly treated by older boys, refused to name things done to him.

†† He wrote a poem in later years that described his fear, mostly how missed his dad.

In late teens he fell in love, courted this girl for seven years.

†† Her father permitted the courtship, but when Cowper asked for her hand, refused.

†† He never recovered romantically, never courted any other woman.

His father had pushed him into law.He tried to be a lawyer, heart not in it.

†† Then he got a promotion to a clerks position in Parliament and it was

†† too much pressure and he snapped.Tried to kill himself three times.

 

He was committed to an insane asylum, St. Albans,

†† where he came under the care of a very godly and kind physician

†† who took an interest in his physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Thatís where he came to a saving knowledge of Christ.Reading Bible:

†† I received the strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel . . . My eyes filled with tears, and my voice choked with transport; I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder.

 

He left St. Albans, moved in with some friends and they started going to the church

†† pastored by John Newtonóthe Anglican minister known for Amazing Grace.

They became friends, began to write hymns together.††

†† But his depression returned and it was relentless.

One night he had a bad dream, the exact contents he never told anyone.

†† But this dream convinced him that he was utterly forsaken by God.

†† He never denied the faith.He continued to believe the Gospel and write hymns.

He thought that he alone had been singled out for rejection, and that God had

†† taken away his salvation, and assigned him a place in hell lower than Judas.

Then he would get some relief and the cloud would lift.

†† Then the awful feeling of being lost and abandoned would come back.

 

His life shows us that even genuine believers can suffer such severe bouts

†† of depression that they have great difficulty feeling any hope in Christ at all.

And that underscores what a remarkable hope we do have.

 

Our salvation does not rest on how we feel, but Christís work in history.

†† He died.He came out of the tomb on Easter.He ascended into heaven.

†† Heís coming back one day and we will be raised incorruptible.

On that day

†† Faith will be made sight.

†† The diseased will be made whole.

†† And the depressed will be brought into a place of eternal joy and sunshine.

 

That brings us to the third theme . . .

 

MP#3The Answer

What answer does he get from the Lord, crying out to him day and night,

†† arguing that if God doesnít do something, itís going to kill him?

Well, at the end of the Psalm heís still waiting for Godís help,

†† and the answer still seems to be more of the same.

†† You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.

Actually, in Hebrew the last word is darkness.ďMy closest friend darkness.Ē

 

That reminds us there are not always happy endings in a fallen world.

†† This world is broken.We are broken.

†† There is such a thing as unrelieved suffering in this life.

Itís not a sign of Godís displeasure,

†† any more than a life of happiness and ease is a sign of his approval.

The Lord does mostly mitigate the effects of life in a fallen world.

†† And there is still so much goodness in his creation for us to enjoy

†† and to ease the sorrow of life here.

Thatís his mercy.But all of his promises of relief and deliverance and rest

†† and prosperity and lasting joy will be fulfilled in the life to come and resurrection.

 

Some time after William Cowperís bad dream, he had another depressive attack

†† and he never recovered.It lasted the final 27 years of his life.

†† He wasnít catatonic.He continued to write hymns.He continued to pray.

†† Read his hymns.They are often Psalm 88 prayers.

†† But he was in mental anguish.

John Newton spent time with him every day for the next six years,

†† trying to pull him out, but to no avail.

Then Newton was called to a church in London, so he and Cowper parted

†† and they only saw each other occasionally for next 21 years.

 

When Cowper died, Newton preached his funeral and he chose as the Scripture

†† text Exodus 3:2-3óthe burning bush.Moses saw the bush on fire but it was

†† not consumed because the angel of the Lord was there.

I want to read to you some of the things Newton said in his message.

†† The Lord has given me many friends but with none have I had so great an intimacy, as with my friend Mr. Cowper.But he is gone.I was glad when I heard it.I know of no text in the whole book of Godís word more suited to the case of my dear friend than that I have read.He was indeed a bush in flames for 27 years, but he was not consumed.And why?Because the Lord was there.

 

He then traced the history of his friendís mental illnessóhis deepest lows.

†† Some truly heartbreaking.

At the end Newton said:

†† I had hopes the Lord would remove his malady a little time before his death, but it continued

. . . He suffered much here for twenty-seven years, but eternity is long enough to make

†† amends for all.For what is all he endured in this life, when compared with the rest which

†† remaineth for the children of God?

 

Thatís the ultimate answer to all our suffering in this fallen world.

The Lord is with us in the flames, even if we donít feel his presence.

†† He does not allow our souls to be consumed.

†† He will not allow anything to snatch us out of his hand.

And in his good time, he will take us to the place of rest and all will be well.

 

Cowper wrote these lines in one of his hymns:

†† The saints should never be dismayed, or sink in hopeless fear,

†† For when they least expect his aid, the Savior will appear.

Thatís the promise of eternal life.

†† Thatís the answer for all who believe in Jesus.

†† Faith made sight.The sick made whole.The depressed brought into the light.

 

How does Psalm 88 make you feel?Sobered.Humbled.Grateful.

†† How wonderful it is that we have a God who would include this in his bookó

†† a cry of pain from one of his children suffering in a fallen world.

How is this possible?Hebrews 4 tells usĒ

†† Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son

†† of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.For we do not have a high priest who is

†† unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every

†† way, just as we areóyet without sin.