Psalm 88: My Soul Is Full of Troubles
April 18, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.” This and other similar “old saws” suggest that we are most at threat from physical danger. Certainly, physical danger is not to be eschewed or ignored as if it were nothing. Only those who have never suffered real physical pain or suffering can pretend that the agony of which our body is capable is to be laughed at. No, sticks and stones can break our bones, and outrageous slings and arrows of fortune can leave us adrift and homeless or paralyzed or sick in bed.
But, that said, there is a worse pain. When your “soul is full of troubles” (88:3). The strange truth is that a man or woman at peace with God and with themselves can be at peace when in physical pain. The soul at rest is untouchable; you can wound me, but you cannot harm my soul. You can break my bones, but if my soul is strong, then I am still strong. If you doubt the truth of this “joy unspeakable,” or that the singing in jail that the apostles managed in the New Testament is really still possible today, then read the testimony of the great Richard Wurmbrand. Tortured for Christ, yet in jail in communion with Christ.
But what if your soul is in trouble? What then? Where do you go for help if the sickness you carry with you is in your heart, your mind, your thinking, your feeling?
To add fuel to this fire is when those around you also abandon you. “You have caused my companions to shun me” (88:8). How great is the pain of the person who is not only physically alone but is relationally shunned by previous friends? We are social animals. We can take loneliness; very few of us can put up with abandonment by “my beloved” and “my friend” (88:18). Imagine the agony of a person who is not only socially abandoned but also in trouble internally? Not only in trouble internally but also abandoned by anyone who might offer a word of solace or a deed of compassion?
Such was the condition of this psalmist. First of all, he offers a sanctified complaint: “Do you work wonders for the dead?” The hope of the resurrection in the Old Testament was more shadowy than it is in the New Testament, after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead has been witnessed and made visible. But there is still hope for life after death in the Old Testament. (One of Jonathan Edwards’ long private notes contains a record of all his collection of the promises for life after death in the Old Testament.) Why the despair here then of any apparent hope for life after death? It is sometimes difficult for any of us to maintain confidence in the hereafter, beyond this mortal coil, never having been there ourselves; imagine how hard it would be for an Old Testament believer. Imagine how hard for someone whose soul is in trouble or whose friends have shunned them. We have the down payment of heaven with the seal of God’s Spirit within. We have the gospel of the resurrected Christ. No wonder the psalmist was in despair about his future state.
He “cries” to God (88:1, 13). He asks the difficult questions: “O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?” (88:14). Even in his soul despair, he wonders whether it is all a sign that he is still under the “wrath” of God (88:16). It is a terrible thing for your “soul” to be full of troubles.
What is the solution? There are many, but this psalm offers only one. Empathy. As the New Testament puts it, “No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful and just and will provide you with a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
You may feel alone. You may have been abandoned by humans. Your soul may feel like it is in great trouble. But you are not alone. In fact, there are others who experience it the same as you. Some are experiencing it right now. Some have experienced it and have come through to the other side and survived the “dark night of the soul.” Remember: those who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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