I said this while discussing the friend’s betrayal in Psalm 55, and it bears repeating here: I really hope this passage applies to you as little as possible. If you read Psalm 88 and come away thinking “Man, those sons of Korah really nailed it! It sounds like they’ve been bugging our house!” then I really feel for you.
This has got to be one of the darkest and most depressing portions of Scripture. The very first verse addresses the Lord as “the God who saves me” or “God my Savior.” That is the only positive note in this entire Psalm. The rest is pure despair, without one ray of hope.
In fact, Job himself could have really sympathized with this portrayal. The author of this Psalm was abandoned by everyone who ever meant anything to him. His closest friends all avoided him (literally) like the plague, since he was apparently stricken with some loathsome disease (vs. 8). He was overwhelmed with some sort of personal disaster, and grief filled his days and nights (9). Verses 4-5 describe a man who was written off by everyone who knew him, setting him apart with the dead, in effect counting him as a “dead man walking.”
The main difference between this man and Job, however, was the length of suffering the respective men had faced. Job’s afflictions began when he was a middle-aged man, and it had only gone on for a few months when his friends confronted him. All told, the impression I get from his book is that he only went through his experience for a relatively short amount of time (of course, it probably felt like years). Not so this Psalmist. Look at verse 15: “From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death.” In other words, this man had suffered for year after year after year. He apparently had never known a life without this misery.
And just as it was with Job, the worst part was the feeling of total abandonment from God himself. Actually, it was much worse. Nowhere in this Psalm will you find him placing blame on anyone else but God for what he was going through: “You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.” “Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.” “You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.” “Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.” As far as he was concerned, God was doing all of this.
And unlike the rest of the Psalms like this, where the authors were crying out to God for deliverance, there was no “happy ending” here. Psalm 13, for example, had some pretty desperate words about David’s situation, but he ended on hope. The other Psalms called out to the Lord to deliver them out of their dire circumstances, but they ended on a bright note of hope that he would, in the right time and in the right way, save them out of their troubles. Again, not so here. I wasn’t 100% accurate a minute ago when I said that all his friends had abandoned him. He did have one last companion: darkness. The last verse declares that the darkness was his closest "friend." That’s about as low as you can get.
So why did I include this Psalm in the devotional? Did I want you to get depressed? Of course not. As I stated before, I hope that you can relate to this author just as little as possible. But all of us have “blue days,” some people more than others, and it’s just possible that someone reading this, either now or in the future, can find himself in a place not unlike this man's.
So instead of worrying about why I included it, it might be useful to ponder why God would include something like this in his word. I mean, Paul is pretty clear that all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, correcting, and training in righteousness. So why would God do it? Because the Lord wants us to come to him. Even when we’re angry and bitter towards him, bordering on hatred. Even when we blame him for all the terrible things in our lives. He wants us to come to him so much that he puts words in our mouths to express our grief and anger and despair like this.
The lesson I want to get from this is pretty clear. No matter what, we need to be open and honest with him about the emotions we’re facing. If you’re feeling anger towards him, then come to him and tell him about it! If you feel like God is treating you unfairly, then tell him about it! But the key is to come to him and lay your heart out before him. I promise you, he’s listening, and he’s waiting for you to come.
Father God, I thank you for your listening ear. Even when I’m being foolish enough to doubt your goodness, you want me to come. Thank you.