The Book of Psalms

Wednesday: The Dark Night of the Soul


Theme: Darkness All Around
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
I used the word “darkness” to describe the tone of the last stanza, but the word actually occurs for the first time in verse 6, in a stanza that takes us even further into the abyss. What makes this darkness so dark and this stanza so depressing is that here God is thought of as having caused the psalmist’s problems. In verse 1 the writer called God the one “who saves me.” In verses 3-5 he described his actual, present state. But here, in verses 6-9a, he says, contrary to his opening statement, that God is the cause of his misery. Notice the repeated complaints about God’s actions: “You have put me in the lowest pit” (v. 6). “Your wrath lies heavily upon me” (v. 7). “You have overwhelmed me with all your waves” (v. 7). “You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them” (v. 8).
The psalmist does nearly the same thing later (in v. 16), complaining, “Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.” It is worth noticing the similarities between Psalm 88 and Job. Job was a godly man whom God blessed with a large family and many possessions. Suddenly these were all taken from him. His life became so miserable that he condemned the day he was born, stared death in the face and prepared to perish miserably. This is a close echo of what the psalmist seems to be saying of himself in Psalm 88. Yet the most important similarity is that God had caused Job’s suffering, if not directly at least by permitting Satan to afflict him, and Job was unable to imagine why. This is what the psalmist is claiming too. These similarities are so great, including even certain echoes of language, that Franz Delitzsch has suggested that Job and the psalm might even be by the same author, Heman the Ezrahite.1
We know from the beginning and ending of Job that God had a purpose in Job’s suffering. It was to demonstrate before Satan, the demons and the watching angels that a man will serve God for love’s sake quite apart from what God may do for him materially. But the point of Job is that this great patriarch did not himself know what was going on. And neither apparently did the psalmist. Both works are present in Scripture to remind us that we do not necessarily know what God is accomplishing by our suffering either.
1See Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 3, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), pp. 23, 24.
Study Questions:

What do these verses say is the cause of the trouble?
Why did God allow Job’s suffering?
Read Job’s lament, and list any similarities and differences you see with this psalm.
What do we learn only from suffering?

Reflection: Have you suffered without knowing the reason why? How does this psalm help you?

Study Questions
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