Where is the hope in Psalm 88?
Didn’t Paul say in Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope?”
Why, then, is such a hopeless psalm like Psalm 88 in the Bible?
This text is in the Bible so that when suffering and pain come and we are between the affliction and the triumph in the midst of the questions, pain, and clouds of doubt, we may see that what we are feeling is normal. It has all been felt before, and all the questions have been asked before. We are not the first. We are not alone. And we are not in danger of losing our faith.
God is a big God who can handle our questions, our anger, and our pain. This is clear from the fact that God has many psalms and verses in his Word in which godly people are struggling with doubts about his goodness and care for them. It is especially clear from Psalm 88, which doesn’t even end with a message of hope.
God cares about us in the midst of the pain. His goal isn’t just to get us out of the pain to the joy; he also wants us to see that he is for us and with us in the pain. It is true that weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5). The morning will dawn and God will remove every tear (Rev. 21:4), but God is not just concerned about the morning, the new day when you can shout for joy. He is with us even in the night when there is nothing but weeping, when the tears are so thick that we can’t see. When we are in the deepest pit and darkness weighs on our souls and God feels so absent that we wonder if he is even real, this psalm reminds us that he is with us even then.
Even more remarkable than the experience of the psalmist in Psalm 88 is the experience of the Son of God on Calvary. The night he was betrayed he went to Gethsemane in order to pray, He brought Peter, James, and John with him that they might pray for him and comfort him, for he told them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matt. 26:38).
Jesus, the Divine Son, was full of sorrow, and his sorrow was so deep that it was like death. His agony was so intense and severe that his “sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). When we read the story of Christ’s passion, we often gloss over his astounding statement, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) Because of the sin of man, the Son of God who is the Father’s beloved and delight was forsaken. He was abandoned and left all alone. The depth of this pain is greater than we can know. There has been no greater pain in all of history.
Why is the depth of Christ’s pain significant for us? Because “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In the midst of our pain we may feel alone and believe that no one has hurt as badly as we hurt. But it isn’t true. Jesus Christ has felt such pain; indeed, he has felt pain that would have destroyed us. He is able to sympathize. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).