Psalms 81; 88

The Dark Night of the Soul.

“You have thrown me into the lowest pit, into the darkest depths. Your anger weighs me down; with wave after wave you have engulfed me.” ­– Psalms 88:6-7 NLT

Dark nights of the soul. We’ve all experienced them. Those moments in life where everything seems to be caving in on  you. When God seems distant and your prayers appear to go unanswered. The two Psalms in today’s reading stand in stark contrast from one another. Psalm 81 has God Himself crying out to His people to remember and repent. He reminds them of His faithfulness and of His redemption of them from slavery in Egypt. He also reminds them of their rebellion and disobedience. Then He gives them the key to restoration. “But oh, that my people would listen to me! Oh, that Israel would follow me, walking in my paths! How quickly I would then subdue their enemies! How soon my hands would be upon their foes! Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him; their desolation would last forever. But I would feed you with the best of foods. I would satisfy you with wild honey from the rock” (Psalms 81:13-16 NLT). Listen. Follow me. Walk in my paths. God is looking for obedience. He longs to bless, but His blessing requires obedience. In verses 8-10 God makes it clear that their disobedience had to do with following after other gods. They had replaced Him with the false gods of Egypt and the land of Canaan. He required fidelity and faithfulness, but they had failed to remain true to Him and Him alone. Yet He longed to restore them and bless them.

Where Psalms 81 seems to give a view of life from God’s perspective, Psalms 88 is totally from man’s view point. In it, the Psalmist describes the dark night of the soul in which he find himself. His world is collapsing around him. He is under extreme pressure. He is even close to death. Yet he keeps crying out to God. He begs for Him to listen to him and rescue him. He even seems to believe that it is God who has brought all of this upon him. “You place me in the lowest regions of the pit, in the dark places, in the watery depths. Your anger bears down on me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves” (Psalms 88:6-7 NET). He feels completely rejected by God. And unlike most of the other Psalms, this one ends in sadness, with no resolution or declaration of God’s righteousness or faithfulness. There are no statements regarding God as his rock, fortress, redeemer, or rescuer. It ends as it began – in despair.

So what do we do with these two Psalms? How do we resolve the apparent conflict? I think it is all in how we view them. It’s all about perspective. One Psalm gives a horizontal view of life – from man’s limited perspective. The other Psalm gives us a view of life from God’s vantage point. During the dark nights of the soul, it is easy to lose sight of God’s bigger perspective. While the write of Psalm 88 seemed to have an understanding of God’s sovereignty, it was fairly negative. Yes, he believed that God was in control, but that God only brought bad things into his life. God brought punishment and nothing else. Since God was in control, all the pain and suffering in his life had to come from God. And God does allow pain and suffering to come into our lives. Sometimes He even uses it to admonish us or get our attention. But Psalm 81 reminds us that God always has a method to His seeming madness. He has a reason for and a plan behind the events that take place in our lives. But we have to look beyond and behind those vents to see His perspective. He has our good in mind. Even when He punishes us, it is for our own good. The writer of Hebrews understood this concept. “And have you entirely forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes those he accepts as his children'” (Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT). Correction and discipline do come from the Lord at times. But sometimes the suffering we encounter is a result of living in a fallen world. Death, disease, and disappointment are part of the result of the fall. And they impact everyone – the saved and the unsaved. As believers we are not immune to these things. The economy affects us just like everyone else. We are susceptible to disease just like everyone else. We can be hurt and disappointed just like everyone else. But we know that God loves us. He sent His Son to die for us. He has our best interests in mind. He is in the process of transforming us into the likeness of His Son. And He uses these events in and around our lives to do just that. We just have to see life from His perspective. Is He punishing us? Perhaps. But it could just be that we are experiencing the affects of the fall on our lives. And He is allowing this dark night of the soul to remind us of our need and dependence upon Him. He wants us to do just what the writer of Psalms 88 was doing – to call out to Him. To wrestle with Him. To even blame Him if that is what it takes to get us to call out to Him. It is okay to ask Him “Why?” and “When?” But when we learn to see life from God’s perspective we will learn to patiently wait for His answer to our questions because we know that He loves us and has our best interest in mind. Our questions will begin to be “What?” and “Where?”  What are you trying to teach me? What are You wanting to do in my life? Where can I see Your hand at work? It’s all about perspective.

Father, give me Your perspective on life. Help me to see the events of my life from a higher vantage point. It’s hard sometimes, but I know You are willing to open my eyes and give me Your divine perspective. When I enter those dark nights of the soul, help me to see Your light shining in the midst of them. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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