By Dr. Mark D. Roberts
You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
Darkness is my closest friend (Psalm 88:18).
Psalm 88 aches with dark despair. It begins with a cry for God's help but ends with a sad confession, "You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend" (88:18). Though we don't know the exact nature or extent of the psalmist's pain, we do sense that he has mostly given up hope. "I am as good as dead," he laments (88:4).
I find it striking that Psalm 88 includes virtually no word of reassurance. Nowhere does the psalmist add parenthetically, "But you are the Lord of mercy and compassion," or anything similar. Most psalms of lament include words of hope. But not Psalm 88. Here we find dark despair.
Yet, even in the "lowest pit" (88:6), the psalmist keeps on talking with God. He hasn't stopped reaching out to the Lord, even though he has no apparent confidence that this will do any good. By putting his prayer in writing, the psalmist encourages us to keep in dialogue with God no matter what. God is able to handle our despair, our doubt, our anger, and anything else we might throw at him. In fact, I believe God has put this psalm into the canon of scripture, in part, to give us permission to tell him anything. It's one of those psalms that encourages us to pray with "no holds barred."
Questions for Reflection: Have you ever prayed anything like Psalm 88? When you feel despair, do you keep on praying? Why or why not? What helps you turn to God even when you're not sure it will make a difference?
Prayer: O Lord, how I thank you for the blunt honesty of Psalm 88. This psalm encourages me to tell you anything and everything that is on my heart, holding nothing back.
I am reminded to pray today for people who are in a place of dark despair. Help them to open their hearts to you. Make your presence known to them, even if they cannot figure out what you're doing in their lives. Hold onto them, Lord, so that they might remain in relationship with you even when their lives are so painful and difficult. Amen.
Mark D. Roberts, as Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, is an advisor and frequent contributor to TheHighCalling.org. A Presbyterian pastor, Mark earned his Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard University. He has written six books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer (WaterBrook, 2005). He blogs daily at www.markdroberts.com, and the meditations he writes for The High Calling will be featured at the Evangelical Portal every Thursday.