In the last article, we considered the fog of darkness. One helpful way to clear the fog is by acknowledging who is ultimately in control of the darkness we face. When we face difficult times, when we feel like we have unanswered prayers, and when suffer in solitude, we need to realize that our sovereign Lord is still receiving our prayers. One commentary describes these cries to our omnipotent God,
This prayer is an honest acknowledgement in ancient Israel that prayers sometimes remain unanswered. (The Lord) is unmoved by urgent need and intense petition. This is the honest experience of every person of authentic faith. The Lord is not a wishing well or an automaton that delivers on demand…[U]nanswered prayer does not lead to lack of faith, or silence, or resignation. It leads rather to more urgent, vigorous petition, for Israel has no alternative source of help.1
The sovereignty of our Lord is seen all throughout Psalm 88. The psalm helps us to realize how easily sadness can strike as we encounter God’s sovereignty. Therefore, we need to reflect both on the truth of God’s sovereignty and the lies of sin that mutate His supreme power.
The Truth of Sovereignty
Our Lord is in control of all things. He not only controls the good times but also the difficulties that we face. One of the best resources for this concept is found in the Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 27. The question asks, “What do you understand by the providence of God?” The answer covers everything, as we are told,
Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.2
What an amazing concept, as we look back on 2022 and look forward to 2023. Our Lord is not only in control of the rain, fruit, and our health and prosperity. He also has control over and a purpose for drought, famine, sickness, and poverty. Therefore, the Psalmist certainly has a right to call out to the Lord with the difficulties he is facing. We should not take the Psalmist’s words in v. 6 as an unfair accusation against Yahweh. Rather, he cries out with a proper understanding of providence. The Psalmist knows that the Lord gives seasons of darkness.
A season of darkness ultimately comes from the Lord. The Psalmist proclaims, “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep” (v.6). This statement may sound like an accusation against God (and certainly the accusations do develop in v. 7). However, a fair testimony is being made by the Psalmist. When difficulties come in life, we must trust that our Heavenly Father is still in control. The Psalmist’s words made me think of my grandfather’s memoirs from World War II. After his bomber was shot down behind enemy lines, his parachute landed in a quiet pine forest covered in snow. As he described his journey behind enemy lines, he said,
It was quite dark and cold, and I was seeking shelter…I continued to walk and I came to a barn. The doors were padlocked and I found a window which I could reach by jumping up and grabbing the sill…I pulled myself up and sat on the ledge of the opening peering into the darkness…I decided to take a chance and jump into the darkness. I did so and it was about a six foot fall, and I fell to the floor. I groped around the floor for straw for cover, found some, and fell into a troubled sleep.
I awoke with a start and as the morning light began to filter through the cracks…I looked around and found that I was lying next to a large hole in the floor. Had I rolled a few feet in my sleep, I could have fallen into the hole. It was quite deep, and I might not have been able to get out. The Lord preserved me through the night.3
Amid his leap into darkness, my grandfather knew who was in control. And though he would be captured by the Gestapo and spend time in a prison camp, he still knew who was in control. Therefore, while the Psalmist’s words in v. 6 have a tone of lament, we should also hear them as words of truth. Our sovereign God is in control of all things, even “the regions dark and deep.”
The Lies of Sin
The Psalmist proceeds to be astounded by God’s sovereignty. In v. 7 he cries out, “Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.” An interesting transition takes place from v. 6 to v. 7. In v. 6, the Lord has been attributed with full control, even of “depths and darkness.” In v. 7, the Psalmist states that the Lord’s anger is behind these difficulties. As the Psalmist makes this claim, he either asserts a sin that he is being punished for, or he assumes that God’s wrath must be behind the difficulties he is facing. Less proof is given for the former claim, so we must conclude that the Psalmist is in such sorrow that he believes God’s wrath is at work against him. The Psalmist further emphasizes the point from v. 7 in the Psalm’s final four verses. After asking the Lord a question of despair in v. 14, the Psalmist concludes by expanding on the words of v. 7 in vv. 15–18. The Psalmist gives emphasis to the Lord’s terrors, His wrath, His overwhelming power, and His transforming friends to darkness. In the midst of sorrow, the Psalmist accuses the Lord.
In the last article, we considered some of the difficulties of internal struggles such as depression, anxiety, and anger. These struggles can become even more difficult when we turn God’s sovereignty into tyranny. If we distort His sovereign power and believe that He is out to get us, then our internal struggles will increase. When we see the crushing end of Psalm 88, we must remember that this is not the only Psalmist who responds to difficulties. If the truth of Psalm 88:6 can lead us into the despair of vv. 7, 15–18, we need to remember the words of Psalm 66:10-12:
For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; 12 you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.
When we face times of difficult suffering, we should not conclude that the Lord’s wrath is upon us. He may be testing us with refiner’s fire, and He may have a greater purpose than we will ever know. Yet, He is not raining down His wrath upon us.4 To give in to this lie only increases “the internal fog” from last week. If we are suffering with anxiety and tell ourselves that God’s wrath is upon us, will this thought help our anxiety or increase it? If we are dealing with depression and believe that God’s wrath has removed everything from us, will this perspective help or hinder our depression? If we are consumed with our own anger and believe that God’s anger is the reason behind it, will this perspective put out or put fuel on the fire of rage? We must remember that our sovereign God has a good purpose for everything that He does. In the Belgic Confession Article 13, we are given a wonderful description of His purpose,
This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father. In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.5
Our Sovereign Lord has a purpose for everything that happens in our lives—what a great comfort! Amongst all His children, there is only one who truly experienced the sovereign wrath of God. Only one would have the wrath of the Father, an overwhelming flood, and an end of darkness poured out upon Him. Only one could say the words of Psalm 88 were true for Him. While these accusatory cries may not be true from the Psalmist, they would be true in the cries of our suffering Savior. Therefore, in the next article we will consider how Psalm 88 should be seen as our Savior’s soliloquy.
©Robert M. Godfrey. All Rights Reserved.
You can find the whole series on Psalm 88 here.
1. Bruggeman, Walter and Bellinger Jr., William H. Psalms: New Cambridge Commentary Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK 2014, P.381
3. Memoirs of Charles D Nemeth pp.31-32.
4. Of course, consequences can be given to the unrepentant sinner. Furthermore, even the repentant believer may have practical consequences for the sins they have committed. However, my point in this statement is to address the repentant sinner, who tries to convince themself that God’s wrath is raining upon them. This scenario best applies to the author we find in Psalm 88.
- How To Subscribe To Heidelmedia
- The Heidelblog Resource Page
- Heidelmedia Resources
- The Ecumenical Creeds
- The Reformed Confessions
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008)
- Why I Am A Christian
- Support Heidelmedia: use the donate button or send a check to:
Heidelberg Reformation Association
1637 E. Valley Parkway #391
Escondido CA 92027
The Heidelberg Reformation Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization]
- Heidelblog Contributors
- Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 1): Light in the Midst of Darkness
- Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 2): Light in the Midst of Darkness
- Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 3): Light in the Midst of Darkness
- Saturday Psalm Series: Psalm 88 (Part 4): Light in the Midst of Darkness
- Saturday Psalm Series