A Psalm That Has No Hope
Today I want to take you to one of the darkest passages in all of Scripture: Psalm 88.
In the Psalms, the Sons of Korah are known for their jubilant chants. Yet in Psalm 88, they sing something utterly dark. There is no relief within their stanzas and no triumphant resolve at the end.
Please read the entire Psalm, but I’ll include the final four verses below:
“From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.”
(Psalm 88:15-18, NIV)
The words of Psalm 88 are so dark, so desperate, and so lacking in any perceivable hope that it almost takes your breath away.
That is, of course, depending on your definition of hope.
If your hope lies in experiencing pleasure, creating ideal circumstances, or in your ability to figure out how to solve life’s problems, then there is no hope in Psalm 88.
The hope of Psalm 88 is found precisely in the fact that it has no hope in it. It isn’t wrapped with some cute theological bow at the end. Instead, Psalm 88 is hopeful because of its stark honesty and profound darkness.
This Psalm confronts us with a blunt reality: being in a covenantal relationship with the Lord does not mean that I will escape the difficulties of life in a fallen world. As difficult as it is to accept, you are still here because this is where your all-wise and all-loving Heavenly Father wants you.
Our continued presence in this groaning place is not the failure of the plan; it is the plan. These experiences do not get in the way of what he is doing in and through you but are the means by which it gets done.
Psalm 88 reminds us that God is not after what we are after, or this Psalm would not be in the Bible. If God were exercising his awesome power to deliver personal satisfaction and pleasure to you, then Psalm 88 would be an embarrassing testament to his complete failure.
Psalm 88 also reminds me that the God in whom I hope really does understand the most profound suffering in life. He hears with patience and mercy the most desperate cries of the human heart. He never minimizes, mischaracterizes, misunderstands, or mocks my struggle.
Our Lord redeems the lost and the lonely, the rebel and the fearful, the confused and the doubtful, the sinner and the sufferer, the poor and the forsaken, the rejecter and the one rejected. There is no thought so distorted, no emotion so powerful, no circumstance so horrible, no action so twisted, and no desire so desperate as to be outside of the reach of the Redeemer and his grace.
Psalm 88 is in the Bible to remind us that the circle of God’s grace is big enough to contain every experience that this broken world could throw at us.
Now that is a reason for hope, even in the middle of a seemingly hopeless situation!
Paul David Tripp
1. Have you ever experienced a Psalm 88 moment? When was the darkest period of your life, when God seemed distant and life hopeless?
2. How honest are you with others in your life? Is your natural tendency to respond on Sundays with, “I’m fine, how are you?” and sugar-coat the reality of your struggles?
3. What can you do to encourage others to be honest about their suffering and discouragement?
4. Does comfort and pleasure motivate most of your decisions and desires? How can you take practical steps to pursue sanctification instead, getting closer to the agenda that God has for you?
5. How has God previously displayed his grace to be bigger than and sufficient enough for what this broken world will throw at you?