Theme: When the Light Is Fading
From this psalm, we see that life does not always have happy endings. Nevertheless, we can trust God in the midst of great sorrow and suffering because of what he tells us about himself in his Word, and that he promises to work in the lives of those whom he loves.
Scripture: Psalm 88:1-18
This is the stanza (vv. 9b–12) from which C. S. Lewis got one of his quotations showing that the ancient Jews did not reflect very much on life beyond the grave, if indeed they believed in it at all. Rightly so! Verse 10 seems to deny the resurrection, and verses 11 and 12 seem to say that the dead are not even awake or conscious enough to remember God.
This is not true, of course. But it is from the perspective of what we can see on earth unaided by specific revelation about the afterlife, which the psalmist did not have. Derek Kidner says, “From the standpoint of God’s congregation and his glory in the world, all that is said here is true. It is among the living that his miracles are performed, his praises sung, his constancy and acts of deliverance exhibited. Death is no exponent of his glory. Its whole character is negative: it is the last word in inactivity,…silence,…the severing of ties, …corruption,…gloom, … oblivion. The New Testament concurs, calling it the last enemy.”1 Nothing is to be gained by denying this. It is not the whole truth; we know much more because of the New Testament and its revelation. But it is at least part of the truth and therefore rightly has its niche in Scripture.
Not only are the dead silent, since they are unable to rise up and make God’s wonders known. God is also silent toward them, so far as the psalmist knows (vv. 13, 14). One reason why he feels so close to death, “as good as dead,” we might say, is that God is not speaking to him now. He tries to speak to God; he is praying. But God rejects him and seems to hide his face. Have you ever felt like that? I am sure you have. Most of us have times when the heavens seem made of brass and the prayers we throw upward fall back upon our heads unanswered. When that happens it is no wonder that we feel dead or almost dead spiritually. If “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; from Deut. 8:3), it is no surprise that we feel nearly dead when God is silent.
This is the point where we have learned to expect that a lament like this should become positive, however dim that positive hope might be. We expect it to say something like, “Nevertheless, I know that you hear me and will answer before very long” or “I will wait to see what wonderful things you will do.” However, we are not going to find that here. Instead of optimism we find the gloomiest and darkest words of all. It is as if the psalmist looks about in every direction he can, and sees nothing but misery, despair, death, terror and loneliness everywhere.
First, he looks back. Sometimes when things are going bad, we are able to look to the past, remember better days and be encouraged by them. But when the psalmist looks back all he can remember is that “from my youth I have been afflicted and close to death” (v. 15). He cannot recall any happy or brighter days to cheer him up.
Second, he looks forward. It is even worse when he does this, for all he can see there is death, made horrible by his present experiences of the terror and wrath of God (vv. 15, 16). He has every reason to suppose they will continue. This has plunged him into the very pit of “despair” (v. 15).
Third, he looks around at the present. These are his last words, and they are no better. In fact, they are the worst description yet. The present leads to blank despair. He sees himself as having been “destroyed” (v. 16) by God; “surrounded” and “engulfed” by God’s terror (v. 17); separated from his “companions and loved ones,” whom God has taken from him; and, without God, to be all by himself in the “darkness” (v. 18). In the Hebrew text “darkness” is the psalm’s very last word. So it is as if the writer reaches up and with a final, despairing effort of his will snuffs out the already fading light. Thus the psalm ends.
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms, p. 318.
Study Questions:

What view of death is expressed in verses 9b–12?
Explain man’s perspective, apart from the gospel’s revelation, about life after death.
What does the psalmist see when he looks to his past? Forward? To the present?
How does the psalm end?

Reflection: How do you feel when you are depressed and God is silent? If you have shared your experience with others, how have they tried to help you? What have you learned about God’s timing?
Application: Start a journal of the blessings God has given you, so you can look back and be reminded of God’s past faithfulness when you go through very difficult times and feel as if things are hopeless and God is absent.

Study Questions
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