Reflections of the Psalms – Psalm 88

Posted on: April 23rd, 2023

Some writers have called Psalm 88 the most mournful of all the psalms, and with the exception of the first verse, the message is one of despair and complaint. The suffering which was endured was personal in nature, and pointed to a life of long continued suffering. Some commentators believe the writer was afflicted with leprosy, still others see it as a cry of despair over the destruction and captivity of Judah. There is no way to know the specific events leading to the writing of the psalm; but in spite of it’s bleak and mournful tone, Psalm 88 contains some valuable insights for Christians today.
The first point to consider is the condition of the writer. Apparently, he was in distress both physically and mentally. In verse 3 he wrote, “my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave.” When a person is experiencing severe physical problems, that suffering will often affect the inner peace of a person. In this case, the psalmist had experienced such problems from his youth (verse 15), apparently he was confined and felt that his friends had left him (verse 8). His main question was “Why!? Why is this happening to me!?”
In times of distress, Christians often ask the same question. It certainly happened in the early church. In many of the inspired letters in the New Testament scriptures, the problem of how to deal with suffering and distress was discussed at length, and the reason was the same – people wanted to understand the “WHY” when something bad happens.
When problems arise, the Christian must understand that the Lord can use such events as a means for a person to mature. James wrote in James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Suffering and trials can also be used as discipline. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness”. (Hebrews 12:11)
In addition, the Christian has a promise that the writer did not have. The Lord has PROMISED to never give a Christian more than he, or she, can handle or bear. Throughout the New Testament scriptures, a message of confidence, inner strength and assurance is found. These allow a Christian to weather the storms of life.
There is another message in Psalm 88 that is even more encouraging for a Christian. In verses 10-12, the psalmist questions what would happen after his death. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah. Will Your loving kindness be declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Abaddon? Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” For the people of the Old Testament covenant, there was no clear message as to their fate after death. They had to simply trust in the Lord God’s will.
Christians also trust in the Lord’s will, but with that trust is a message which rings out strong and clear. Yes, there is life after death! Yes, God does show his wonders and declares his love to those who leave this physical world! From the New Testament scriptures, there is no question about the fate of those who die in the Lord Christ Jesus and those who die outside the Lord. Christians live by faith, but it is an informed faith in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ! The wonderful reality of the blessed assurance found in Jesus was not known to the writer of Psalm 88. How blessed are Christians today!
A final point can be seen in the first verse of the psalm. In spite of the writer’s apparent terrible situation, and in spite of the despair and depression found in his words, he did turn to the Lord. He did recognize that God was his only hope of salvation. His understanding was incomplete, and there was little hope in his words, but he WAS holding on. One of the key qualities for God’s people is Endurance – the ability to persevere in the face of great trials.
If the writer of Psalm 88 could demonstrate a faith in the face of adversity, how much more faith, endurance and maturity should Christians have today? This IS a psalm of despair; but within these words can be found a stubborn trust in God.
“Thank you Lord for your love for us and the hope we can have in Jesus Christ!”