Journey Through The Psalms: The Sound of Silence
Lord, you are my God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am the one without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you. Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion? But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken from me friend and neighbor-darkness is my closest friend. Psalm 88
So we began this journey of Lent, looking at the Psalms, and I had shared with you the three categories that Walter Brugaman has suggested of Psalms of orientation, of things are good, life is good, this is how we praise God, Psalms of disorientation, where things take a turn and our sails lose their wind, the rug gets pulled out from under us. And we're left saying, Oh, my word, what just happened? And then the Psalms of re-orientation in which we've been through some things, and yet we still are turned to a new understanding of... A new appreciation for who God is. Well, today, Psalm 88 is a Psalm of disorientation. No question about it. And if you listen to those words, the last word, that Psalm was, darkness, there was no re-orientation in this Psalm, in fact, the subtitle in my Bible says a prayer for help in despondency, and despondency is probably an understatement of what this psalmist is going through. Many of the commentators refer to this as the darkest of the Psalms.
And so why are we looking at it today? Well, we've gotta hit rock bottom somewhere, so I figured why not, you get it now. Because the good news is it's only upwards from here, so this is a heavy one, bear with me, but I think there are some things that we can gain and understand from this. This Psalm starts out with probably the most hopeful sentence of the entire Psalm, and then... It's all downhill from there. The Psalm starts out by saying, Oh Lord, God of my salvation. That's a good start. But then right away, we take that plunge into the abyss, when at night, I cry out in your presence... Let my prayer come before you incline your ear to my cry. But like last week's lament the Psalmist once again is pointing a finger or shaking an angry fist at God saying, This is your fault, you brought me here, but even more so the Psalmist is saying, I might just well be dead, you don't listen to the dead, the dead don't praise you. And things can't get much worse than they are, so I might as well die.
And he goes on and says, But what good is there in that... Because God, I know that you're a good God, and He goes through this list of things. Is your steadfast love declared to the grave? Is your faithfulness In Abadan, the Psalmist says, God, I understand a lot about you, that you're just and faithful, and that you're loving-kindness abounds. That’s the kind of God you are. But my experience right now is like What? The dead experience. I'm in that pit, I'm in the grave. I'm abandoned, I'm suffering, I'm struggling. It's not pleasant where I'm at God, and to top it all off, you're utterly silent. The Psalmist cries out in the night in the depth of darkness, saying, God, I need you, I'm crying out to you. And all the psalmist here is the sound of silence. Where is God when the psalmist needs him? Where is God when he needs God to speak up? To step out to extend a hand. And it just isn't happening. Well, normally this is where we'd expect something to happen and suddenly things to get better and the psalmist to live happily ever after, but this psalm doesn't go that way.
The Psalmist continues calling out and continues to hear that sound of silence, what's more... On two different occasions, the Psalmist mentions that my companions shun me, and not just that they shun me, but he says, God, you have caused them to shun me and have made me a thing of horror to them. They're disgusted by me, they avoid me. In verse 18, once again, he says, You have caused my friends and neighbors to shun me. Maybe you've had a moment in life like that where you feel like you're being shunned, rejected, that people are intentionally avoiding you, maybe not even because of anything that you've done. But it happens, it's the person who loses a spouse and suddenly finds that the circle of friends that they'd had together with their spouse, suddenly aren't the same circle of friends anymore, it's the addict who suddenly finds that going into recovery means that there are people that don't want to associate with you anymore because they're more than happy to continue in their own addictions, it's the person that's gone through a divorce, and suddenly that extended family that you loved and cared for is no longer there. We have those moments in life where we feel like suddenly the whole world has just pull the way... Sometimes it's a diagnosis, a loss, grief of pain or hurt, and people are uncomfortable, they don't know what to say, they don't wanna get pulled into your stuff, and so they casually take their steps back and they conveniently are going to go down the next aisle at the grocery store, when they see it coming up, the one that you're in, and as if the situation wasn't bad enough on its own, it just reinforces all the more how alone you were feeling...
That's where the psalmist is at. They hit rock bottom, they've called out to God and they've heard nothing. And even the people that normally are a part of their life are backing away... It is a dark place. It's a hurtful place. And maybe you've been there, maybe not, but we understand that kind of pain, that people sometimes experience... For the Psalmist, it may have been a physical ailment that they were dealing with, but the truth of it is, people carry all kinds of hurts and woes, and honestly, sometimes the ones of the body are easier to deal with than the emotional and spiritual ones, but the Psalmist, to his credit, does not give up... We begin this Psalm with him calling out to God. And two more times throughout this song, the Psalmist continues to call out to no avail, because the psalm ends in darkness and then silence, it doesn't leave us feeling that encouraged because even if we're not going through something difficult right now, it's terrifying to think that could God not be there for me when I really need God. So what do we take away from this? Why would this psalm, that is so weighty, so depressing be included in our Bible?
Well, I've got three things that I think are reasons why it is here. The first is, it's realistic, because guess what? Sometimes life hurts. Sometimes things don't go our way. Sometimes we just have to cry out and say what's going on, it's the person who suddenly loses a loved one and finds themselves standing at the grave where the grass hasn't even started to grow yet, crying out in pain. Is the parent kneeling next to the hospital bed of their child trying to make sense of what happened and why things are going the way that they are... Life isn't always easy, and we don't always get the answers that we want... There's a song on the radio, it's been out for a little while, and Christian radio that says, maybe it's okay. If you're not okay. If this Psalm does anything for us, whether you're experiencing one of these times in life or not, it gives us permission to not be okay, when life's not okay, we don't have to put a pretend smile on our face and act like everything is fine when it's not. If it hurts. It's okay to express it.
Which brings me to my second point. One of the reasons that I think it's important to have a Psalm like this in our Bible is to remind us that this isn't just a book of the good parts. This Is not a fairy tale or Disney version of what life is as a follower of Jesus. One of the fallacies that I think people often pick up, make up assume is that, Well, if I'm a Christian, everything will be okay in life but it's not. Christians have their ups and downs just like everybody else, but we also are reminded that we're not alone because of this journey that we are on, particularly those moments when we feel like we've hit rock bottom and were abandoned and no one is listening. Is one in which God sent his Son to endure that very thing. The psalmist had a dark night. Jesus had a dark night in the garden of Gethsemane, where his friends couldn't even stay awake to pray with him. The Psalmist cried out to God and said, Are you there? And from the cross, Jesus uttered the words, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And so when we find ourselves at that point of having no other option but to cry out to God, to scream at God, to yell to... Not even use words. Know that you're not alone. Know that when you get to that moment, the psalmist, and count with countless others. And even Jesus have been there before you.
So when we encounter those moments, our final takeaway is that we continue to trust in God nonetheless, that we continue to cry out, and we continue to cry out, and we continue to cry out. Because you see, God's silence at times. Is not a lack of love. It's not a lack of compassion or caring, because God... God's not a helicopter parent. God is still here, even when we don't see it, and thank goodness, God's ability to work and move in this world, it doesn't depend upon our awareness of what God is doing. A final word on this Psalm.
I've been speaking to you as though you maybe have been through or are in may eventually experience a hit and rock bottom moment in life. But the tangent that I would add to this is what the Psalmist points to about the friends and neighbors who have shunned him, it's been a difficult year, more so for some than others, but COVID, in 2020, aside, there are people around us all of the time, who are carrying all kinds of hurts, some more obvious than others. Sometimes we think when someone says, No, I don't want any visitors or I don't wanna call that the best thing we can do is to give them their space, and at times that may be true, but my word of encouragement to you is, don't give up on them.
Let them know that even when they feel like they're crying out into the darkness and all their hearing is the sound of silence, let them know that you'll be there with them to listen in that silence, because even in the silence, the waiting, it's a little easier if you've got someone with you, take note of the people around you, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and be courageous and be loving, and reach out to them, it's not an easy word to hear sometimes, but it's one that we need to hear. That it's okay to not be okay. But you're never alone. If today has been a little bit heavy for some of you, take a moment to talk about it at some point with someone, for those who are here or whether you're at home, I'm available, others are available, but don't let the dark nights be something that you face don't let them overwhelm you, continue to call out and trust that God and those who love you, will be there. Amen