Trust God Even in Darkness - Psalm 88 Sermon, June Prayer Service
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Wednesday June 5th 2019: Season of Easter / Psalm 88 "Trust God Even in Darkness"
O LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
incline Your ear to my cry!
For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom You remember no more,
for they are cut off from Your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and You overwhelm me with all Your waves.
You have caused my companions to shun me;
You have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon You, O LORD;
I spread out my hands to You.
Do You work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise You?
Is Your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or Your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are Your wonders known in the darkness,
or Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
But I, O LORD, cry to You;
in the morning my prayer comes before You.
O LORD, why do You cast my soul away?
Why do You hide Your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer Your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me;
Your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Happy, happy, happy: I just want to be happy. Nothing bad should ever happen to a Christian. Doesn’t God just want me to be happy. Why talk about unpleasant things in church? Shouldn’t everything just be happy, happy, happy?
Psalm 88 is not a psalm about being happy. This is a very dark Psalm, full of soul crushing misery and sadness. It is even a Psalm with accusations against God. “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness,” “I suffer Your terrors; I am helpless. Your wrath has swept over me; Your dreadful assaults destroy me,” “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and You overwhelm me with all Your waves.”
These are hard words to hear, because as Christians we know we are in God’s hands and the Psalmist knows this too … the challenge comes when things in our life are not easy and happy but sad and hard. Then we might ask, “Am I still in God’s hands? Even when it is dark and bleak, when life is painful and ugly am I still in His hands?” What does Job say in the first chapter of the Book of Job? “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Then the book of Job says, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” And then just a bit later in the next chapter Job says to his wife, “… Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” and then this very important idea is repeated yet again in a little bit of a different way, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” Job understood that he was in God’s hands even while things were bad, his children taken from him, his crops, his livestock, his health. Even in the midst of it all as great evil was falling upon him, raining down from the hand of the devil, Job knew he was not truly in the hands of the devil, he knew that he was still in God’s hands. The Psalmist in Psalm 88 knows this as well, when he says, “my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to the grave.”
As in the Book of Job when the psalmist in Psalm 88 speaks this way about his situation he does so without sinning. He is pointing out, in this prayer, his great distress and while it seems odd he is also pointing out that he trusts God even when things are at their worst. He on the one hand is honest about his troubles and while it is all outside of his control and abilities to cope and may even be inflicted by the demonic such evils don’t get the last word in the life of the Christian and we know this because on the other hand the Psalmist includes this very important phrase, “O LORD, God of my salvation,” that is the driving force of the Psalm. As rotten and thing have gotten, as evil as things have become, as sad and dismal as I might feel, even if it brings about my earthly death I shall not fear because the LORD is “my salvation.” He is “my saviour.” “I am saved” and even in the darkest hour when all seems lost, it is not lost. God is “my Salvation.”
If a man dies in an explosion or some such tragic accident on a jobsite or a lady is randomly and unexpectedly hit by a bus there may be no opportunity to delve into this sort of melancholic introspection … it is however the case that even the Christian will think about the possibility of their death in morbid and dark terms when they have received a terminal diagnosis from their doctor and they have time then to ruminate on that diagnosis; or when life has been long but the inevitable end is growing closer they may think of it then; or when someone is imprisoned and has a death penalty hanging over their head they may also think on this. These are the kinds of situations in which even the Christian may find themselves soul searching and looking at their circumstances. This is why this Psalm is often used on Good Friday in Lutheran Churches around the world  because in doing so we acknowledge that Christ Himself faced a death He knew was coming and we hear in the Gospel of St. Luke how it was that Jesus, “went, as was His custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him. And when He came to the place, [Jesus] said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony [Jesus] prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Did you hear that? “And being in agony [Jesus] prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” Jesus poured His heart out to His heavenly Father honestly praying about what was befalling Him, we too are asked to come to our heavenly Father as a dear child comes to his dear father with our petitions and requests. Psalm 88 is an example of a man pouring out his heart to God, laying out all that troubles him and placing it all into God’s hands acknowledging that it is already all in God the Father’s hands; it is all in His control.
Had the Psalm not started with, “O LORD, God of my salvation,” it would not be a prayer of hope in the darkness of distress, it would just be a complaint with no trusts, no hope. Therefore, when you pray be honest with God your heavenly Father, He knows your situation just as He knew His Son Jesus’ situation and circumstance as Jesus looked towards His Cross and Passion. And remember no matter how bleak the diagnosis or circumstance may be you are not alone Jesus faced death and looked into its black maw, and countless other Christians have faced a multitude of deaths over the centuries. And when you are upset by everything remember also the prayer of Psalm 62, “[The LORD] alone is my Rock and my Salvation, my Fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.” And with the Hymn writer you can look to the end of all things and says, “Some day I shall see clearly that [God] hath loved me dearly.”
At the cross in His crucifixion, even though Jesus took in our place the wrath of God over sin, the terrors of death, He did not lose heart: There is this phrase and you know it because it comes up in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 27 where Jesus at His crucifixion prayed, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" and in that you hear a little bit of the same sort of thing that is happening in Psalm 88: Well including that little line, that’s the first line of Psalm 22, and its “short hand” to the hearer know that Jesus is praying Psalm 22, and Psalm 22 when read in its entirety is a Psalm of great hope and trust. Pluck one verse out and read it apart from the whole and the true picture becomes harder to see, just as it is in the life of a Christian, pluck one or two words out from a whole life and a less than flattering picture may surface. Miss the first verse of Psalm 88 and the whole Psalm reads differently doesn’t it. Read it all together and another picture emerges a picture of hope in deep distress.
A Christian life may not always be happy, happy, happy it can however be one where the Christian looks to God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son and says, “O LORD, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before You. Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my cry,” trusting that God will indeed hear your prayer. That whatever the trouble might be it is in His hands and He will rescue you from it whether today, tomorrow or on The Last Day in glory. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Job 1:21-22
 Job 2:10
 "Sheol," refers to the grave or the abode of the dead.
 A Commentary on Psalms 73-150, John F. Burg, Northwestern Publishing House 2005, Pg 125.
 Luke 22:39–46
 Psalm 62:2
 Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, #760 “What God ordains is always good” verse 4.