Psalm 88

How can I stand when I am being played as a marionette by the tempter of my soul. I even know that I am being played! When I step back from my situation I can see how my emotions are in turmoil; I have no peace; I cannot rest. I am being driven into the darkness by a temptation to ‘sort this thing out’. I seem helpless to keep myself from gnawing away at this issue – whatever it might be.

Psalm 88 speaks into this situation.

1 Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. 2 May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.

In the first place the Psalmist calls out to God to save. No great surprises here, the Lord is the obvious person to go to for help. If it were that simple, the Psalm would end right here.

This does not mean that calling out for help is a pointless exercise. Rather, it is the beginning of a process. Without Jesus walking with us in this process, we don’t stand a chance. With Him, it may appear a long and tortuous journey, but this is a journey of discovery both about ourselves, and the spiritual dynamic of overcoming the darkness. Looking back after the event, it is a journey with many benefits.

3 I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. 4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength. 5 I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.

When some issue takes hold of me I am overwhelmed by it. It is as if a wave sweeps over me and I cannot stand before it. My spiritual life seems to be swept away, I have trouble praying. Whenever I pray, my mind goes straight back to this thing that has captured my heart. Since my relationship with God is side-lined, my spiritual life is drawn towards death. The spark of life that I depend upon to really live is illusive.

6 You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. 7 Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. 8 You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.

I am confined and cannot escape; 9  my eyes are dim with grief.

Recognising that the Lord has a part to play in this process is really important. He is not passively allowing the puppet master of my soul to have free reign. He sees the anguish of my soul, yet He also sees my weakness and wishes for me to learn new pathways to Himself.

This place of apparent abandonment feels like a place of wrath, it is a place of relentless distress with wave after wave keeping me from finding my balance. In it I am kept from any of my normal supports, my friends have been taken from me by one means or another. I cannot escape by any legitimate means.

I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you.

10 Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you? 11 Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? 12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

While seeing the Lord has permitted this situation to arise, it in no way stops the Psalmist from calling out to Him for help. Just as the heart ache relentlessly rears its head, so the Psalmist responds in relentless prayer as the widow to the unjust judge.

While the Psalmist might be calling out to the Lord, there is also a recognition of the effect on him of this spiritual darkness. When these issues are overwhelming us, we cannot worship, we cannot see God’s wonders or rise up in praise. It is not that they are absent, but our minds are captured by these thoughts and they have no space or distance with which to ponder on the greatness of God. This is a significant element to the light being taken from our spiritual eyes.

13 But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. 14 Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?

Though the Psalmist cannot find space to contemplate God, he can call out to him. There is this one way channel from the Psalmist to God and he makes use of it so that constantly his prayer goes before God. He might not understand the whys of the situation, but there is an assurance that the Lord has not abandoned him but hears him in his distress.

It is here, very quietly that we have hope. The victory is never seen in the Psalm, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. This is wise, for when we experience such darkness the light that people try to present often turns out to be a false hope. This is part of the meaning of ‘You have taken from me my closest friends.’ They are not absent, rather they don’t understand our situation and their words instead of bringing help bring pain.

The hope that comes from the Psalm is that the Lord knows, and whether we experience it or not is irrelevant to His presence. He is supporting us and, even through these seemingly hopeless cries, He carries us. He will bring us to the end of the process, and at the end of the process we will be able to look back and see that He has used it for good. It may take many years for us to be able to see any good, let alone to be thankful, but His goodness will ultimately prevail.

Having just been through a little squall, I will relate that through it I had to give up on my normal means of meeting with God. With a reflective mind, I was too easily taken over by the anxious thoughts. All I could do was call out to God about the anxiety itself. I prayed about the effect it was having on me and the weakness that it showed in me. I called out for strength and the Lord helped me.

A verse that helped was 1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.

I was encouraged that I am not alone in the issue that has overtaken me. I am encouraged that God is faithful, no matter what the circumstances say to the contrary. I am encouraged that my Father will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear, though I seem to be stumbling around like a deranged fool. I feel like I am pushed here and there at the whim of the puppeteer who, the moment I seem to be getting on my feet, introduces a new thought, maybe juicy, maybe anxious, to take me back into the darkness.

But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Then comes the great and hopeful ‘BUT’. He provides a way out. This is not a way out to make it easy, for the whole process is about developing spiritual strength and exercise, by its nature, is not easy. There is however a way out. I am reminded here of Jesus, The Way. The way out is not some formula that I could write down and you could follow in any situation. The Way out is a person with a road suited for each situation. The challenge is to see Him and to follow Him.

15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair. 16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. 17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. 18 You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend.

To emphasis the relentless and seemingly unending nature of this situation, this last stanza takes up the theme of the third stanza, though stating everything subtly differently.

There are no two ways about it, when we are in this place we are in despair. We see very little relief and this darkness that sweeps over us, when we could only wish for the life of Christ has become our closest companion. It is always there ready to play with us the moment our minds are clear of anything else.