There are bleak Psalms and then there’s the 88th Psalm. It doesn’t get much darker than this:
“You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.” (v. 18)
At times the question is raised: are the Psalms biblical? “Biblical” is a loaded word and sometimes it can get thrown around in unhealthy ways. And yet it is a fair, and intriguing, question, especially in light of the hopelessness of Psalm 88.
How does this belong?
If you try to fit Psalm 88 into a neat and tidy theological framework it doesn’t hold…you have to rationalize it away or not read it.
But it’s there. Right between the musical joy of 87 and 89.
And that might be the point. The psalms are not an instruction manual
or a theological treatise,
they are life.
And sometimes life is happy
and full of singing and rejoicing,
and other times life is painful
and full of darkness.
The point is not to try to distill a lesson from psalm 88. Just let it be there.
Because, sometimes there is no answer.
Sometimes there is no resolution.
Sometimes there is only darkness.
I spoke on Grief at REUNION on Sunday, part of our series called “UnDone”. You can listen to it here. I was able to spend a few minute talking about how those who are on the comforting side of the grief process can fall into a couple of dangers.
One of those is dangers is to default to clichéd advice like: “everything will be ok, time will heal all wounds.”
I think we have spiritual ways of sending a similar message. Not liking the messiness of the middle of the grieving process we say things like: “I’m sure God has a plan for all of this,” or “He will work it all out in the end.” That stuff sounds nice, and yes there are moments when we need to be reminded that something bigger than our situation is in control, but most of the time it isn’t very helpful in the moment.
And even more insidious is when this kind of advice gets thrown back on us later on down the road. Maybe things did sort of work out. Maybe you lost a job and ended up with a better one, or a relationship ended and that opened the possibility of something new and deeper. What happens here is that a helpful friend comes along and says: “See this is how it was supposed to work all along, isn’t God good.” They slap God’s approval on the whole thing, and suddenly you have no way to respond to that. Can’t argue with God.
But, that situation, whatever it was, HURT. And yes, things are working out and that is worth celebrating, but what ends up happening here is that those feelings become invalid. Now you have to pretend like that never hurt in the first place. Somehow you are less spiritual and in tune with how God works if you continue to name the pain and call it what it is.
But to truly heal (and to be fully human) you have to be able to say: “that hurt.” And if even something beautiful comes on the other end of it, it is all the more beautiful because it was born out of pain. But that thing was still painful…it doesn’t just disappear.
And, that, I think, is really important to remember.