There are periods in our lives when we experience little comfort, when refuge seems out of reach, when “but joy comes in the morning” seems but a faint hope. Joy always does come on some morning, but it does not come every morning, and we should not try to pretend that it does.
In Psalm 88, unlike many others, there is no silver lining, no bright light at the end of the dark path; it is sorrow and woe from beginning to end. The cause of these morose reflections appears to be a loss of friendship. “You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them” (v8), and “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness” (v18).
The psalmist suffers in anguish: “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol” (v3); “Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves” (v7); “my eye grows dim through sorrow” (v9). And then in one final exasperated utterance:
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. (v14-17)
Deep sorrows are rarely overnight guests and the anguish of enduring a disaster-in-progress is sometimes an experience of months or even years. We sit watching as if we are captives – gagged and bound with eyes propped open – powerless, defenceless, hopeless.
Often when this happens we tend to make self-condemning declarations. We indulge in the self-pity of believing that we are to blame for every small negative detail of a complex situation. Indeed, we may be partly to blame for our predicament, but we must guard against taking undue credit.
For in this frame of mind, we would look at the man born blind and tell him he must have sinned – either him or his parents. We would sit with Job and offer long monologues of very bad advice. These responses betray a lack of faith in God’s sovereignty and a deficit of trust in his clear promises to us.
As I make my way, reading and reflecting, time and again through the psalms, I sometimes think, “Isn’t it enough already, all these reflections on sorrow and weakness and trouble? On feeling alone and abandoned and low? On the betrayals of friendship and on sins of my own?” But I write only in response to what I read, and the psalms are full of these themes.
Not only should we learn to expect these emotions to surface in our souls, but we should embrace them as often as necessary; we should not suppress them the way we sometimes do. Rather, we should use the psalms as the starting points for our expression and conduits for our own sorrow.
We need to learn to sit in the sorrow, to let God do the chisel work he intends to do without constantly trying to dodge the bevelled edge. What does that look like? On many days, I’m still working that out.
- I know it means applying faith to my anxieties, thus halting the endless cycling of my negative thoughts.
- I know it means denying the false relief of digital distractions to alleviate my tired mind. This only makes my mind more tired.
- I know it means to cease striving for comprehensive self-invented solutions and admit that I cannot change the hearts of those for whom I pray. What I can do is ask God to change my heart and then comply with the often painful process.
How Does This Add Up?
In John 9, where we find the story of a man born blind, Jesus says the purpose of his blindness was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. In John 11 he says something similar about Lazarus: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Blindness, sickness, and all manner of disorders and diseases – who does not want to be relieved of such afflictions? But Jesus, then and now, has full authority and is capable of arranging these events in such a way that our faith is strengthened as God is glorified.
The events of our lives may seem paradoxical or sometimes even counterproductive to us. They often may not seem to add up, but Jesus knows and understands exactly how they do.
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Michael Krahn is the Lead Pastor of the EMMC church in Aylmer, Ontario, where he has served for the last 13 years. He has been married to Anne Marie for 27 years and together they have three daughters (19,18,16). You can find more of Michael’s writing at www.michaelkrahn.com or connect on social media at @Michael_G_Krahn (Twitter), pastor.michael.krahn (IG), and Michael.George.Krahn (Fb)