You have taken from me friend and neighbor— darkness is my closest friend (Psalm 88:18)
Did you know that there is only one Psalm that does not have a happy ending ? It’s Psalm 88.
The sad ending in verse 18 is why this Psalm is often called the darkest in the whole Psalter.
But I want to show you that the message of this Psalm is not bleak despair. Looking at it closely, there is more hope than you might notice at first glance.
If the Psalm were totally pessimistic then the photo below would be totally black. But it’s not. You see the bare beginnings of light and daybreak. So, what are the signs of hope in the Psalm?
Right off in the first verse, the Psalmist acknowledges God as the God who saves: Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you.
He keeps seeking God’s face throughout in prayer:
May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. (Psalm 88:2) But I cry to you for help, LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you. (Psalm 88:13)
What if the Psalmist had said, “I give up. I’m not going to bother to pray anymore”? Then you would have a bleak Psalm indeed! But that is not what the Psalmist does ; he does not give up despite feeling and experiencing a desperate situation.
Even when the Psalmist asks, in verse 14, Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? you sense that he has not given up—in his darkest despair he is still talking to God! And an implied hope is that this is only a temporary feeling.
When we feel that God is hiding his face from us when we are faced with tragedy or disappointment, we can take heart that as the Psalmist cries out, he is not compelled to pretty up his laments or pretend to be more cheery than he is. That’s a good example for us—we don’t need to pretend to feel that we are closer to God or more sure about God’s answer than we really are.
It’s unclear what the exact source of the grief, trouble and feeling near death is for the Psalmist.
I think that’s a deliberate vagueness that allows us to fit ourselves into the Psalm. We can fill in the blank with our own discouragement. But also, we fill the blank in with our own persistence in calling out to the Lord and praying to the Lord. We don’t give up.