Psalm 88, The Dark Night of the Soul


Psalm 88 is a hard psalm to read. It’s probably not a favorite psalm because it doesn’t have a whole lot of hope.

Sure, there are other lament psalms (and they are ones that are resonating deeply as of late). But this might be the lament of laments.

James Boice says of this psalm…

“It is not unlike other psalms in which the writers complain of their wretched circumstances and lament their misery. But these others all move toward some state of resolution, maturing faith, or hope by the end of the psalm. This is not the case with Psalm 88. It begins with God, but it ends with the words “darkness is my closest friend,” and there seems to be no hope anywhere. Derek Kidner says, “This is the saddest prayer in the Psalter.” H. C. Leupold wrote, “It is the gloomiest psalm found in the Scriptures,” adding, “The psalmist is as deeply in trouble when he has concluded his prayer as he was when he began it.” J. J. Stewart Perowne said, “This is the darkest, saddest Psalm in all the Psalter. It is one wail of sorrow from beginning to end.””

It is good that we have a psalm like this, but as Boice also says, it’s probably good that we have only one.

This psalm, like the others, is honest, brutally honest. It does not hide behind the ways that we followers of Jesus normally speak, like when we say in the midst of darkness and confusion or pain and grief, “Everything is going to be okay.” Or, “it will all work out in the end.”

Of course, in eternity all will be okay and God will work it out. But for many followers of Jesus, that still means that life on this earth may never “get better.” In this sin-ton life, happy endings are not guaranteed. Happy endings are not a human right.

Psalm 88 leaves us (the readers) hanging. Just imagine how the author must have felt when he penned these words? No resolution. No hope was in sight. No relief was on its way.

Psalm 88 may only be outdone (in expressing misery) by Job chapter 3. The verses in Psalm 88 simply move along from one expression of profound misery and despair to another.

Reading this psalm, and living through just a tiny, tiny fraction of what Heman the Ezrahite must have been going through, there are lessons.

Real prayer is talking with God. Pouring out our heart. Being honest with our God who knows everything and wants to hear it from us. I am realizing that when we talk about prayer, when I read about it in books, prayer has been cut down, chopped up, whittled away to just us requesting something from God. Heman the Ezrahite talks with God and doesn’t hold anything back. Heman doesn’t even end this prayer with reaffirming trust that God will take care of the mountain of anguish that was before him. I imagine God, like I would be as a father, sad when his children come to him only with requests and no desire to commune and fellowship.

Real faith comes to God. There is not much in this Psalm that shows any hope or light. But it sure is good to know, that even in the darkest night, we can come to God. Real faith, like the test that we see in the book of Job, comes to God even if everything around us is crumbling and falling apart. Our love for God isn’t in what he gives us is it? Our love for God doesn’t grow the more he answers our prayers does it? Our love for God is based on his love for us. It’s based on who he is. Heman the Ezrahite comes to the God of his salvation (verse 1).

God wants us to be real with him. We don’t have to have everything tied up in a neat bow. Life can have (and will have) loose ends, but it never changes the fact of who God is. He is the God of salvation, the God of deliverance, even if nothing about current circumstances that we may find ourselves in has any hint of deliverance, no crumb of comfort, no slice of hope.

Thank you God that I can come to you. Thank you that you have given me even the grace to do that much, come to you. Thank you that you are a God who hears, a God with whom I can talk freely and openly with. Thank you that YOU are my salvation!

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