Bestselling Christian books sometimes claim to hold the key to our “best life now.” Popular Christian music often has no place for grief. Both paint a picture of a Christian faith that is out of touch with the reality of life in this fallen world. For those whose spiritual diet consists solely of such things, Christianity may be a way to find success in this age or to achieve your full potential through positive thinking. But if this is the extent of your faith, you will be unprepared for the suffering the Bible says is inevitable for those who follow Christ (Phil. 1:29).
When we consider all of Scripture, we see that while the Bible does say that those who follow the Lord often experience many blessings on this side of eternity, it does not guarantee us lives that are easy and free of trouble. In fact, we are even given prayers to pray during those times when we are suffering great difficulty. These are the psalms and prayers of lament, which are found throughout the books of Psalms and Lamentations.
Psalms of lament typically move from a complaint to an expression of confidence that God will deliver the author (for example, see Ps. 22). But one psalm of lament ends on a note of darkness, namely, Psalm 88. The prayer is typical in its pleas to God for help, but v. 18 closes with the remark that the psalmist’s companions “have become darkness” (other translations read “darkness is my closest friend”).
What should we make of this? Is the psalm a confession that God has completely abandoned the writer? When we consider the placement of Psalm 88 in the book of Psalms, the answer must be no. The inclusion of Psalm 88 in an entire book of prayers indicates that we are not to read this prayer in isolation but as one of many hymns and prayers uttered unto the Lord. It is prayed alongside other psalms that end with a more robust confession of faith.
Let us also consider John Calvin’s comment on today’s passage: “This kind of complaint justly deserves to be reckoned among the unutterable groanings of which Paul makes mention in Romans 8:26. Had the prophet thought himself rejected and abhorred by God, he certainly would not have persevered in prayer.” The existence of this prayer shows that the Bible is fully aware of dark times in our lives—when it seems as if darkness surrounds us and it looks impossible, humanly speaking, for the light to ever break through. At such times, we persevere even if all we can do is confess our grief. That we can do so is proof that the Lord is still working in our hearts, for without His grace, we could not pray.