If I had to title this Psalm it might be “Psalm 88: The Definition of a Bad Day.” The misery and lament of this Psalm is overwhelming—obviously a continuation of a season of sorrow.
As I read this lament, I am wrapped by a word picture that’s used in verse 4 of “the pit.” The Hebrew word here is bor and literally refers to a cistern, but is used metaphorically for “the grave.” The bottoms of cisterns were filled with muck from water runoff. As people entered cisterns to re-plaster the walls, retrieve grain that was stored if it could no longer hold water, or if they were imprisoned like Joseph or Jeremiah, they would never be able to get out on their own. The muck would suck their feet and the more they moved they more they would sink.
Is this where you are right now? Are you hurting and the more you struggle the more it seems that you sink down becoming “like a man without strength?” This Psalmist takes it one step further by saying that God has put him in the “lowest pit” (6) because he feels the wrath and weight of God.
As we read this Psalm we see a man seemingly challenging God’s goodness. We see this a lot in scripture, especially with the Prophets. However, it is important to note that this Psalm is written from an entirely human perspective. Absolutely no theological correction is made here, it is simply the cry of a broken heart. For example, look at verses 10–12 and answer these rhetorical questions from a human perspective, then from God’s perspective. Humanly speaking, when a person dies God can no longer show His wonders, or receive praise from that person. However, we know that death is not the end, and in Christ, we will eternally witness the wonders of God and praise Him forever.
This lack of theological correction is fairly unique to this Psalm. Although most lament Psalms end in a reaffirmation of God’s goodness, character, promise, or some other hopeful idea, this Psalm does not. It ends on a note as depressing as it had been throughout. However, we do not esteem the accuracy of the words of this Psalm, because much of it is figurative, repeatedly saying, “I’m hurting so bad. I feel so stuck. I might as well be dead. Where are you God?” This vivid and illustrative language is descriptive of a hurting person crying out to God, rather than a theological treatise on suffering. What we do esteem is the fact that this hurting person is honestly going to God in the depth of their suffering and crying out to Him.
Let’s face it, Christian culture is often overly positive and doesn’t have the theological depth or honesty to deal with the hurt and melancholy this life produces. With platitudes of “All things work to the good,” we push people past pain too quickly and fail to grieve with hurting people. Obviously, God redeems hurt, which is why Romans 8:18 is a verse I memorized a long time ago. But when a person is hurting, instead of ramming theological correction down their throat, it may be better to weep with them before sharing what God can do to redeem suffering (see John 11:35). In those moments, let’s honestly pray as this Psalmist did, “O Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You. Let my prayer come before You; Incline Your ear to my cry!”
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate