When Despair is Our Only Song
- Monday, August 06, 2012
Two weeks ago I received a phone call from a lady who had found my cell phone number via the Internet. She relayed that she has been experiencing great financial difficulty and relationship problems for close to a decade. She had hoped and prayed for breakthroughs and victories. She also had sought the Lord for more contentment and given much thanks for her difficulties. However, the pain now had become too much for her—too prolonged of a season. Her question to me was, "Is it true that it is God's will for me to go through this trial?" I could hear her sobs as we were on the phone.
Her pain is not unique to believers. I have seen utter despair in the lives of people who have lost family members in sudden, tragic deaths; I encounter such hopelessness when fairy-tale marriages devolve into horror-story court proceedings. Almost inevitably, a believer experiencing the silence of God questions his own faith, or the goodness of the God who rules over such earthly evils.
At times of great hopelessness and despair, I like to direct people to Psalm 88. It is a song for a soul "full of troubles" (v.3) - the only psalm that does not contain a note of hope. It teaches the faithful at least three great truths about walking with the Lord through the most difficult times of life.
1. When despair is our only song, we should cry out to the God who saves us (vv. 1-7).
The singer of this song, Heman, knows the Lord as Savior—the "God of [his] salvation" (v. 1). The depth of his despair is not a litmus test of the reality of his salvation. To the Lord he cries out earnestly of his hopelessness (v. 2)
The psalmist's troubles are fierce. He is to the point of feeling that he is near death (vv. 3-5). Providentially, the writer's experiences find their origin in the Lord, if for no other reason than the Lord's decision not to intervene in his life (vv. 6-7). The God of salvation is overwhelming the psalmist with waves of troubles. Yet he cries out day and night to the Lord, for the Lord who is putting him in the pit remains his only hope.
2. When despair is our only song, we might question God's power beyond the grave (vv. 8-12).
God's dealings make Heman a "horror" to his friends (v. 8). The author is so saddened that he cannot escape despair. Nevertheless, the Lord remains silent to the cries of the struggling saint (v. 9). So the hopeless one raises a series of questions for the Lord (vv. 10-12). The essence of the questioning is, "If you do not bring me out of my troubles, and I die as a result, can I know your glory beyond the grave?"
The question is legitimate, for if God cannot save in this life, there is no hope for him to save in the afterlife. Instead, "Abaddon" will swallow our bodies and souls after we have despaired of life. Surely one understands why Heman's eye - like my caller's eye - "[grew] dim through sorrow" (v. 8).
3. When despair is our only song, God still might leave us alone in the darkness of our pain (vv. 13-18).
The desperate situation of Heman does not stop him from praying (v. 13). Also true, however, is that his continual prayer does not end is trial. Now an adult, the writer has experienced this pain since his youth (v. 15)! Certainly one would expect the Lord, who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy," to say "enough is enough." Instead, the Lord assaults the worshipper such that he is only surrounded continually by being alone in his despair and absent of friends.
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