Tag Archives: Psalm 88

When it all goes dark…and silent

..yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brothers house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead.. At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;

Surely God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household…Only a few years will pass before I take the path of no return. My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me.

(Job 1.18-22: 13.15: 16.7&22-17.1)

Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death..You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief…You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend.

(Ps 88.1-3,6,8&18)

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.

(Isa 53.5)

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

(1 Cor.10.13)

 

Sooner or later, it comes to each one of us. The pain of the world suddenly becomes our pain, the tragic headlines become our headlines, our lives, and our future. There are some trials from which there can be no return – the premature death of a beloved child, a fatal diagnosis, a destroyed relationship. These things in themselves are painful enough, but when those involved had not professed faith in Jesus, when we fear that they had no hope for eternity, the loss becomes unbearable.

These things are common trials to mankind down the centuries, not unique to us here and now – this is not some new thing which God is doing. It is a mystery which his children have wrestled with since Cain murdered Abel and broke his parent’s hearts, since Job’s children were destroyed, since Jeremiah was broken and despised by those to whom he was called, since Hosea’s tragic marriage to Gomer.

We are made to call God our Father, to trust in him and to receive all the good things which are our inheritance, most of all to be in intimate loving fellowship with him. When we are wounded in these ways, we feel betrayed, and abandoned; we become angry because we are scared and alone in the darkness of our suffering. We cry out for answers;  we long for the suffering to be undone, for the bad things not to have happened – and in Job and Jeremiah’s case, we wish that we had never lived to experience such depth of trouble.

God doesn’t give us answers, nor – with a handful of exceptional miraculous interventions – does he restore the dead to us. He promises that he will never leave us, and that he is sovereign to rule over all that happens, working it out for his glory – and our blessing. And he gives us his son, to suffer betrayal, injustice, physical pain and ultimate agonising separation from the Father – a darkness which we will never know, because Christ endured it for us.

Let us be merciful to one another, we are all living with unanswerable questions –  like open wounds, amputations or paralyses which impede our every function for the rest of our lives, and at times make us feel permanently cut off from joy, light and hope. Let us be filled with compassion for those whose burden of grief is inexplicably heavy, and refrain from offering easy comfort.

We pray for others, as we would be prayed for: that they might be kept from the temptation to despair of God, He is powerful to protect his children; that they might be spared the aggravation of comforters such as Job’s so-called friends, but instead receive compassion; that they might be upheld by God, and able to cast all our cares on him, over and over again; and that they might know – even in such agony – the peace which only he gives.

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When words fail us..

When Job’s three friends..heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out…. to comfort him. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

(Job 2.11&13)

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief…You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend.

(Ps 88.6-9&18)

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children…..In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

(Rom 8. 14-17, 26&27)

What grace is ours; that we should be called beloved sons and daughters of the Living God, that his Spirit within us should burn with our spirits and prompt us to cry out in love, hope and joy to our heavenly Father!

What security is ours; that no matter how black the darkness around us, or bleak the prospect before us, his Spirit within is continually speaking to God for us, we are never forgotten or forsaken by the Almighty!

It is tremendously reassuring to know that we are on the Lord’s side, together with him against the forces of evil, and the brokenness which blights our world and the lives within in. It is all because He has called us, saved and transformed us, and it is our dependence upon his power which keeps us safe – not our own strength. Indeed, our greatest strength is the speed with which we run to his arms and cry for help and shelter and for his deliverance on our behalf.

But sometimes, in our darkness of spirit, in the anguish we feel for loved ones who are suffering; or in bewilderment at the fresh expressions of evil which are presented to us daily in the media, we are unable to find expression for our prayers. We may be stunned into silence of spirit, plunged into an unforseen pit of despair and trouble, ambushed by pain…but the Spirit of God within us is never disarmed, silenced or confused about the Lord’s will. What comfort, to know that even in our silence, we are prayed for, lifted upon the heart of God, and our foundational desire for his will to be done, and his kingdom to come is being interpreted by the Holy Spirit before the throne of the Almighty.

We can pray with passion and in every situation which challenges, bewilders and hurts us, knowing that as we submit our requests – whatever they may be – and ask for God’s will to be done, we recognise that only He can work all things together for good. We are not to be afraid to pray in case we get it wrong, but rather beseech God to be at work in the ways He knows are needful, and in bringing our requests to him we recognise that our discernment will be faulty. That’s ok, let us never allow our limitations to become an excuse for withholding our prayers!

The Spirit interceding for us is not a reason for us to neglect to pray, but rather an encouragement to persevere. As God’ beloved children, it is natural and right that we should want to talk with him, to share our joys and sorrows, and to be blessed by thinking about him and being with him. This is like the conversations we have – or had – around the table with our own families, everyone sharing without fear, knowing they are loved and their concerns matter. But there are also times when we just need to hold someone, or be held – when there are no words and we need comfort and reassurance – that is what I imagine Paul is talking about when he speaks of the Spirit interceding for us. Our intense need is interpreted by the Spirit’s groans, and our Father’s arms are around us, secure and strong to save.

Praise God, for the free access we have to his loving presence at all times; for the assurance that all our prayers – spoken and silent, articulate or inexpressible – are interpreted according to his will for his glory and our blessing. Let us come without fear, come trusting His power and will to bless us, and be glad in having such a God upon whom to cast all our cares.

When there are no words….

You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. 

Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.

You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.

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

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

(Psalm 88 6-9)

This psalm is unusual because although – like many others – it contains great depths of lamentation and grief, there is no respite, no lightening of the darkness. The author ends his prayer-song with the heart-breaking verse:- “You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.” (Psalm 88.18)

We are left to sit in silence, reflecting on the dreadful experience of suffering which has been poured out, and sharing in the unresolved tension between the psalmist’s conviction that God can save him, and the brutal reality of unabated suffering.

It can be hard for us to be silent in the face of suffering. If our faith is of any value then it must have an answer for even the deepest pain. We believe in a God who is all-powerful, loving and just; surely then there will be reasons to give and grounds for optimism? And if we cannot find answers, we fear that our faith is worthless, a mere folly and delusion.

My thoughts have been prompted by the many I know who are either suffering themselves from long-term mental health issues; or whose children are suffering in this way. For all our mastery of the tools of medicine to heal our broken bodies, we are still relatively powerless in the face of eg. severe depression, bi-polar disorder, and that demon which haunts the parent of every teenage girl, anorexia nervosa. To watch one’s own child disappear into the darkness, to see them destroy themselves and be unable to forestall the dreadful end is a torment beyond the imagination of those who have not experienced it.

What can I say when I meet such people? What has my belief in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, in the eternal loving Father and the ever-present Spirit got to do with their agonies?

My faith is in a God who cared so much for a world hopelessly marred by the rebellion of humankind against his loving lordship, that he suffered the outrage of losing his own son to the darkness in order to heal us. His compassion for our plight is where I must begin when I meet those who are lost and raging against the oppressive darkness which is upon them. May we be so filled with God’s love that we do not shy away from such encounters, fearing the pain we might witness. May we be the means by which the presence of God is made real to those who suffer, weeping with those who weep – like Job’s friends who sat seven days in silence with him. Sometimes no words are needed.

I believe in Jesus, who while he walked among us witnessed great suffering, and saw the impact of pain upon the faith of the people. He dealt so gently with those who were struggling to believe in the face of their troubles, commending even the smallest grain of faith where he found it. Remember how Thomas was finally drawn out of his desperate doubts by Jesus? There was only encouragement, no rebuke. Our dear Lord knows that when we are in the dark – for ourselves or perhaps even more for those we love – that our faith is shaken. Let us then recall the words of Isaiah describing the Saviour’s gentleness :- “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out,” (Matt 12.20). May I be willing to pray for those who can barely pray for themselves, and to trust that God hears and will answer. We depend on his keeping of us, not our hold on him, and what a relief that is!

Finally, let us pray for ourselves, to be strengthened in our faith, willing to live with mystery, and not defeated or broken by the suffering which God graciously permits. The book of Job is very precious in this context, with its overriding theme that we are unable to understand the ways of God. Our comfort lies not in getting all the answers, but in encountering our great God. Only then can our trust in him be renewed.

I believe that one day, in glory, all our suffering will be seen to form part of God’s re-creating of his world, his making all things new, and of glorifying his beloved son, our Lord. In the great wonder of God’s providence, nothing is wasted.

These few words barely touch a profound mystery, but I pray that God might graciously use them to help us to think and live in accordance with his word.

the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised

(Job 1.21)