Crying Out From the Depths
April 29, 2018
There are times in our lives that if we could just speak honestly and voice what we’re really thinking and what we’re feeling to God, that we would want to ask him, “God, where are you? Why are you doing this me? How long are you going to be so far from me? Why are you hiding your face from me?”
These may be times of such intense suffering in our lives where the pain is so overwhelming that we have to turn to something. Just anything that will dull the pain. Maybe for some of us it might be alcohol. For some of us it might be just binge watching TV. But we got to do something to just escape from reality for a bit. To ease the pain. And maybe during these times we actually end up turning to God ultimately and praying to him, crying out to him. But then as we do, God doesn’t answer. He remains silent. There is no answer. He doesn’t show up. And things continue to get worse and worse.
And the question that we ask often during these times is, “What is going on? Why is God doing this? Why won’t he answer and take away this pain that I’m feeling?”
And today in our text, what we see is that the psalmist is going through something like this. He is cying out to God with all of his heart. But all he gets at the end is silence. All he gets is darkness. And he is left by himself.
And so the question I want to ask of this text is, “How could this be? How can this be the case? Why would God do this?”
So the first thing that I want us to see is pretty obvious. The psalmist is really desperate. You can feel his desperation. Because he is crying out day and night. He is going all out in prayer. He is asking God to give his ear to him, that his prayer would actually reach him. That he would hear him out. And we just see his earnestness and how persistent he is. Because three times, three times in this psalm, he talks about how he is praying to God. He says, “I’m crying out to you, night and day. I’m calling you every single day. And I’m screaming, I’m screaming to you for help in the mornings.” And he’s not just asking once. It’s day and night, all the time. And you can tell that he’s not just saying this quiet silent prayer to God. But literally, he’s screaming for help. He’s wailing to God. And he’s clearly in distress. And he feels how helpless he is. And so he stretches out his hands to God. Just waiting for God to help.
But the question is “Why? Why is he so desperate? What is going on with him that he’s in such distress?”
Well the text says that he is close to death. He is about to die. Maybe he’s sick or maybe his enemies are chasing after him, trying to kill him. We’re not sure; we don’t know. But what we do know is that his life is drawing near to the grave. He is right at the gate of Sheol. Right at the gate of death. He is about to die. And so he says that he is a strong man, a he-man, a strong man that has no strength. He is one that is set free, set loose. But set free to be among the dead. Set free to be in the graveyard. And he says that even though he hasn’t died yet, he is already counted as dead. He is already like the ones who aren’t remembered anymore. Who are cut off from God. Basically, the picture that we see is he’s in the graveyard and he’s left there to die. He’s in one of those deep pits where it’s impossible to climb out. He’s shut in. He cannot escape. That’s the situation that we see him in.
And when we are in such a dire situation, when our lives are filled with such trouble that all these troubles, all our stresses are just weighing down upon us and bringing us down and we feel that we are trapped in a pit. I’m sure at least most of us here have at least one person, have friends and family that we can cry out to, that we can ask for help, who can reach down and help us get out of the pit. But here we see with the psalmist, his friends have turned their backs on him. They are far from him. They see him as an abomination. As an accursed thing. As an object of loathing. They hate him. These are the ones who are close to him, who knew him well, who have now abandoned him, left him to himself. Our friends and family can be of such help to us when we are in trouble. But here we see he’s got no one. No one to help him. No one to even comfort him. And so here is this situation for this psalmist. This desperate situation. He’s trapped in a pit with no one to help. Rejected by his friends and all his family.
But the worst part of all of this still is that this is all God’s doing. God is the one bringing all this upon him. Look at what he says, look at what the psalmist says. He says, “You (to God) have put me in the lowest pit. In the dark places. You God overwhelm me with all your waves. You made me a horror to my friends.”
So here, not only is God not listening to his cries for help. Not only is God not answering. God is the one who actually put him in that pit. God is the one who’s unleashed all these troubles upon him and thrashing him wave after wave with all these troubles. And he is the one who actually caused his friends to turn their backs on him and to hate him.
And the question we ask is, “How can this be? How can this be God’s doing?” This is quite troubling for us to hear.
Maybe right now in your life, your life is full of troubles. Maybe you are depressed, despairing, feeling alone, feeling like nobody can help you, nobody around you. And maybe you are struggling with anxiety over money, over a relationship, over your health. And then after all that to hear that all your troubles, all your miseries, are coming from God’s hand. It’s all God’s doing. God is the one doing this to you. Obviously, this is not what we want to hear. When we hear things like this, these are the things that make us want to leave church. These are the things that make us want to turn away from God. But here, this is what we hear from Psalm 88.
But somehow, we still see the psalmist is still praying to God after all this. He’s looking to God. He’s looking and waiting. Looking and waiting. And he’s looking so much to the point where he says that his eye is getting dim with sorrow. He’s looking, watching and waiting for God to finally show up, but his eyes are slowly closing. They’re getting dim, because God is not answering. It seems he cannot wait much more than this. But he still calls out to the Lord. He’s stretching out his hands to God. Waiting for God to help him.
And here we see him try to actually reason with God. He brings an argument before God. And we see this with his rhetorical questions that he asks. He asks some questions about those who are dead. He says, “Can those who are dead praise you? Can those who are dead see your wonders? Can those who are dead declare your steadfast love and your faithfulness? Can the dead know your righteousness and your wonderful works?” And obviously, the answer is no. And what he’s talking about here is not that - the psalmist is not talking about how believers die and go to heaven to be with the Lord. But he’s talking about death more generally, as a state of destruction, as a state of being cut off from God, as a state of curse. And so this is his reasoning. “God, don’t let me die. Don’t let me die because if I die, I won’t be able to praise you. How can you leave me in this state where I can’t praise you, where I can’t enjoy you, where I can’t experience your goodness. Don’t leave me in that state, because I know that I’m meant to praise you. I know that’s what you deserve. So please save me from this pit of death. Take me out from here. You are worthy of praise. And I want to declare your faithfulness. I want to declare your goodness, your righteousness, and all your marvelous works. That’s what I want to do. But I can’t. I can’t unless you save me, unless you bring me out.” And it sounds like good reasoning to me. Why would God want to deny someone of a good desire like this, to worship him? Why would God not listen when he says he wants to be with him. He wants to see God and worship him.
That is what we see. And what we see is, still after all this reasoning, no answer from God. The psalmist continues to cry out and we can tell that he’s been crying out for a very, very long time. He says that “from my youth, ever since I was a youth, I’ve been suffering. And ever since all this time I’ve been crying out to you. I’ve been praying to you, calling out to you.” But it seems like even in spite of all his prayers, the floodwaters are still rising. And they’re rising and they’re closing in on him, and he’s about to go under. The waves are about to take him down.
And after a certain point of just asking and praying and calling out, after a certain point, all you can do is just finally ask God, “Why? Why are you doing this to me? Why are you throwing my soul away? Why do you cast me off? Why are you hiding your face from me?” He’s left just asking this question in desperation, “Why?”
But, by the end of the psalm, what do we see? There is no answer. We are left in silence. With an unanswered prayers, unanswered questions, and just simply darkness. Literally, the last word in this psalm is “darkness.” And it could maybe be translated a bit differently where darkness is the last word by itself as the final note. It’s the darkness of the deep pit. It’s the darkness that you can feel. The darkness of death. That’s what we’re left with at the end of the psalm.
You may notice in other psalms, when the psalmist is just crying out to God and praying and lamenting, that in the other psalms there is usually a shift, a turn in the psalm, where he goes from crying to God to praising God. He goes from desperate prayer to such confidence in God. And we see this resolution happening within the psalm, where the psalmist knows that God will help him.
And here in Psalm 88, there is no turn. There is no shift to praise. There is no shift from sorrow to joy. There’s no resolution. The final word, the final note is darkness. That’s where we end.
And this is how it may be in our lives. We are sometimes left asking God, “Why? Why are you doing this? Why aren’t you helping me? Why have you left me in the dark, by myself?” No resolution. Waiting and waiting upon God with no answer.
And so the question that we have to ask is “Why doesn’t God answer? Why is there no answer in Psalm 88? Where is he? Where is his answer?”
Well, you may remember the day when at noon, at twelve o’clock, that complete darkness covered the land. When there was a man drawing near to death, he was literally enveloped in darkness. His friends had scattered from him. They are far from him. One has sold him out. And one has straight up rejected him. And he’s considered an object of loathing. He’s accursed. He’s an abomination. He’s a man without strength. And the terrors of God are upon him. God’s burning anger sweeps over him. The waters of God’s wrath are closing in on him. And he is being drowned by the waves of God’s judgment. He is cut off. And God has hidden his face from him. And the question that he asks is “Why? My God, why? Why have you abandoned me? My God, why have you rejected my soul? My God, why have you hidden your face from me?”
For us, when we ask the question “Why? Why are we suffering,” at least we know part of the reason why. It’s because we’re sons of Adam and we’re daugthers of Eve and we’re living in a world that’s been jacked up. And we know that we are guilty, corrupt in all of our parts, and by nature rebels against God. And so we know that ultimately we are deserving of misery. Not only in this life, but everlasting torment in the age to come. And we know part of the reason why we’re suffering.
But what about for this one here? What about for this one who’s righteous here? What about for the Lord Jesus Christ? Why is he forsaken by God? It’s a legitimate question that he asks. Why is he suffering here? Why is he rejected and left in darkness? He can legitimately pray Psalm 88. And that’s the question we’re left - that he asks.
And we know the answer. The answer is: for us. It is for us. He is put in the lowest pit… for us. He is drowned in God’s wrath… for us. He is abandoned by God for us. We know the reason. He takes that pain that we deserve, the suffering that we should take… for our sin. And ultimately, Jesus is the one who prays Psalm 88… for us.
So that now when we go back and pray Psalm 88, as we pray through our sufferings, we can know that the troubles that come from God’s hand to us - it’s not the wrath of an enemy who wants to drown us. Because Christ absorbed all that anger and all that wrath. It’s not that. But now we can be confident even as we pray through our sufferings that it comes from the hand of a Father who will never reject us. Who will never cast us out. Who will never abandon us. And even as we continue praying through our troubles, and find no relief from God, no answer to our troubles, and it’s just wave after wave hitting us, where we may suffer the same thing, even till the day that we die, until we go down to the pit. Our illness, it may never be cured. It may never be healed. The depression that we go through may never go away. The loneliness that we feel may last for our entire lives.
I know a pastor whose wife passed away through cancer. And during the time when she was drawing close to death, she legitimately asked, she genuinely asked, “Does God love me?” That was her question. “Does God love me?” Given her situation. And at times, we ask that ourselves. We ask, “Does God actually love me? Has God not rejected me here?” That is the question sometimes we’re left with. We’re left with a seemingly silence and just a complete darkness. But we know God has given his answer. He has given his final answer to us. And we see that because he has answered us once and for all through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has said to us that we will be raised together with him one day. And so when he returns, when Christ returns and calls us out of the grave, out of the dark deep pit, every tear will be wiped away. Your sorrow will be turned into everlasting joy. You will no longer be depressed. You will no longer be anxious. You will no longer be sick. And you will no longer be crying out from that pit.
And on that day, we may still have some questions. We may still be asking God, “Why? Why?” We may be asking God “Why have you accepted me? Why, Lord, have you chosen to smile upon me? Lord, why would you rescue a sinner like me out of that pit? And why, why God, should I gain from Christ’s reward? And why should the Son of God, my God, die for me?” Perhaps we’ll be asking those questions on that day.
Summary of Sermon
When we go through suffering, we may ask why God allows it to happen in our lives. And when we go through suffering, we may feel that God is silent and without an answer for us.
The psalmist in Psalm 88 is desperate and helpless as he faces the reality of death with no hope of escape. He is abandoned and rejected and hated by everyone around him. And he believes that God is behind it all. Yet the psalmist cries out to God and continues to wait on him, reasoning that God would not allow him to die and cease in his praise of God.
But there is no answer from God. There is no resolution or shift or turn in Psalm 88. There is only silence. And the psalm literally ends with “darkness.” This is what we can feel in our lives as well.
But Psalm 88 is ultimately meant to be recited, so to speak, by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It belongs to him. It points forward to the suffering and death of Christ, when he was enveloped in darkness and rejected by his friends and, above all, drowned in the waves of the Father’s wrath and judgment. Thus, our Lord Jesus said on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
But Jesus did not receive an answer from his question. And the reason why is a glorious gospel for us. Jesus was left in darkness for us. Jesus suffered for us. Jesus was abandoned for us. Jesus cried out Psalm 88 for us. And now we know once and for all that we will never be abandoned or rejected by God.
As we go through trouble, depression, anxiety and issues in life, we may go the way of Psalm 88. People may leave church and turn away from God because they believe that God has abandoned them. And we may continue to have questions as we may never be relieved of our sufferings in this life.
But we know that we are not abandoned or rejected - and we never will be. And when we enter the life that is to come, may our “why” questions change. “Why, Lord, have you chosen to smile upon me?” “Why, God, should I gain from Christ’s reward?”
Questions for Discussion & Sharing
What are some things that you turn to in times of distress?
How do you feel about the prospect of having no resolution to certain troubles in this life?
How do Christ's sufferings influence your view on your own sufferings?