April 7: Psalm 88

April 7: Psalm 88

Personal cry of distress

Holy Saturday                               Penitentia (Here, O My Lord, I see Thee Face to Face), p. 199

Morecambe (Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart), p. 190

O Lord, the God of my salvation tried,

All day and night before Thee I have cried.

O let my prayer before Thy presence rise;

Incline Thine ear to hear my pleading cries.

My soul is full of anxious cares and gloom;

My weary life drawn nigh the silent tomb.

I am as those that to the pit descend;

I’m like the man whose strength is at an end.

As one cast off among the dead am I;

I’m like the pierced ones in the grave that lie,

Whom Thou hast not remembered any more,

Those cut off from Thy hand where none restore.

By Thee within the lowest pit I’m laid,

In deeps and in the place of darkest shade;

Thy furious wrath on me has come to rest,

Thy waves have o’er me swept and me oppressed.

My former friends Thou hast estranged from me;

Yes, their abhorrence I am made by Thee;

Shut up am I, imprisoned here must stay;

Through deep distress my eyes both waste away.

O Lord, I’ve daily called upon Thy name.

Spread forth my hands Thy gracious help to claim.

Wilt Thou Thy wonders make the dead to know?

And shall the dead arise Thy praise to show?

Shall Thy great love be in the grave extolled?

Or shall Thy truth be in destruction told?

In darkness who Thy wonders will confess,

Where mem’ries fade make known Thy righteousness?

But unto Thee, Jehovah, I have cried;

My prayer shall rise to Thee with morningtide.

O Lord, why dost Thou cast my soul from Thee?

Why dost Thou hide Thy gracious face from me?

From youth I am distressed, about to die;

Thy terrors I have borne; distraught was I.

Thy burning anger over me has passed;

Thy terrors all have cut me off at last.

All day like billows they around me surge;

Together closing in they me submerge.

Thou has put far from me each lover, friend,

And my acquaintances in darkness end.

Psalm 88 is possibly the most difficult of the psalms. In any case, it is arguably the darkest. Psalm 88 is not only darksome in its every line; almost alone among the psalms, it even ends on a dark note. Its final line says: “My friend and lover You have kept afar from me; and my neighbors, because of my distress.”  But then, on closer inspection, we may observe certain subtler features softening this impression of our psalm. For all its gloom and shadow, for example, is it without significance that Psalm 88 begins by thus addressing the Almighty: “O Lord, the God of my salvation”? The intimacy and quiet hope of this address put one in mind of Psalm 22, in which the crucified Jesus, asking why God has forsaken Him, nonetheless continues to call Him “my God, my God.” Finally, the fear of death expressed in this psalm is certainly a fear that Jesus felt. If death is but the outward expression of sin and our alienation from God, then a deeper understanding of sin must surely imply a more profound understanding of death. And who understood sin more than Jesus? Likewise was His perception of death vastly more ample and accurate than our own. And, as He knew more about the power of death than any of the rest of us, there is every reason to believe that He felt this fear of death more intensely than the rest of us possibly could. (Reardon, p. 173-174)

The isolation and fear of depression, forsakenness, and death is assuaged by singing of this common experience with other saints of God. Thus, this personal cry of distress, which Jesus Himself experienced as we do, is enshrined in the Psalter as a corporate song of worship for the church, which in itself is restorative and instructive as we walk through the valleys of this life.

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