I be punished if I am angry at God because I feel miserable
88 is pretty depressing. "O Lord, my God, my Savior,
by day and night I cry to you." The mention of God as Savior
is about as upbeat as it gets. "You have laid me in the depths
of the Pit, in dark places, and in the abyss. ...You have put my
friends far from me; you have made me to be abhorred by them...
My sight has failed me because of trouble; Lord, I have called
upon you daily; I have stretched out my hands to you. Do you work
wonders for the dead?" (The presumed answer is "no.") "...Lord,
why have you rejected me? Why have you hidden your face from me?
Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the point of death;
I have borne your terrors with a troubled mind. Your blazing anger
has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me."
The psalmist not only cries out to God the passion of his misery,
but also lays his circumstances upon God as the source of his suffering.
Such boldness is not unknown, or even that uncommon in Hebrew tradition.
But the unusual thing about this Psalm is that the prayer never
mitigates the completeness of his plight with any hint of hope
There are other psalms of lament, but they usually
find some expression of relief, even if only a verse. "But I put my trust in you,
O Lord, and you will come to my aid." Not so in Psalm 88.
This is a cry of unbroken distress. No pious words of trust or
hope soften the words of grief, accusation, anger, and questioning.
are many psalms that speak of the horrors of human suffering.
Psalm 22, for example—"My God, my God, why have you forsaken
me? *and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?" But
like other psalms, it too employs some expression of hope, some
commitment to praise. Psalm 22 changes tone after 20 verses, when
the psalmist says, "I will declare your Name to my brethren;
*in the midst of the congregation I will praise you." Eight
more verses of praise and hope then follow.
That's not the path of Psalm 88. It ends alone
and dark: "My
friend and neighbor you have put away from me, * and darkness is
my only companion." That is the closing image— "darkness
is my only companion."
No gentle encouragement. No "it'll work out." No "Take
heart, God is with you." This is the cry of unbroken misery.
I'm glad we have Psalm 88. There are times and conditions that
we experience as unmitigated sadness. There are circumstances that
This Psalm stands to affirm that such expressions of grief are
legitimate. It is not faithless to cry out in helpless and hopeless
anguish. It is not wrong to place responsibility for such wrongs
at the feet of God. And you don't have to appease God with some
word of piety, hope or praise.
We can be completely honest toward God with our thoughts and feelings.
And God is big enough to take it all. God won't punish us for being
hurt and angry, even hurt and angry at God.
In fact, only God can take this kind of suffering. To give it
to God might restrain us from internalizing our angry grief into
a depression or externalizing by lashing out at someone else. Only
God is great enough to take this kind of misery and not compound
I wonder what happened when this poet finished
his lament. What happened when he moved into the silence after
he uttered "darkness
is my only companion"? I don't know. But I'll bet thousands
of his descendants have prayed this Psalm with tears and somehow