Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Psalm 10 – Why Does God Seem Absent?

“O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.” ~Psalm 10:17-18 (NRSV).

This lament of bitter complaint for what the wicked and unjust get away with has no superscription, and though it reads like it comes from David’s genre there is no such clue; unless we, like a lot of commentators do, link it with Psalm 9. Then it is David’s.

Those “from earth” are the many worldly ones who do what their despicable hearts conspire, denying the Sovereignty of God that will inevitably judge them. Faith has it that the psalmist, and those sympathising, can believe that ‘right’ will ultimately prevail over ‘might’.

The Distress

Verse 1 is as raw as it is powerful. If we pray this single verse aloud, with the corresponding emotion, we’ll soon learn what it feels like to pray uncomfortably, thinking, “Can we talk to God like that?” Yet, anyone who has been dealt cruel blows in life must certainly have prayed these ways.

God seems absent.

We know it in our own experience; the Lord seems not to help when we most need it. Then, as we look back from a better place—as the Footprints poem suggests—we see that God was far from absent. But such knowledge doesn’t come to our rescue when we are deep in distress.

Descriptions of Wickedness – the Source of Lament

It might be that Psalm 9 deals with wickedness beyond Israel, or outside the church, and Psalm 10 the wickedness occurring within the nation, or inside the church. We don’t need to be sarcastic suggesting the rhetorical, “Really? Wickedness in the church?” We know it happens, because the church is full of sick and broken people just as there are sick and broken people everywhere beyond its walls.

Verses 2-11 feature a protracted description of the psalmist’s vision that perplexes them. What they see explains why they reconcile God as standing far off, hiding himself in times of trouble (verse 1).

And of course we identify with this.

We see people doing the wrong thing and getting away with it. They say what they want and are not held to account, whilst we carefully select our words and perhaps get in trouble. Some intentionally trick the “helpless,” taking advantage, and when we choose advocacy we might be implicated, somehow, in wrongdoing. The courage it takes to reverse injustice involves risk because the nasty are upset and the claws are out.

The Plea

Verses 12, 15 and 17 carry the pleading refrain. Now we begin to notice the transformation in the psalmist’s mood; distress and complaint are gradually giving way to faith-tied pleas, for that all-powerful Sovereign will of God to save those who are suffering.

The pinnacle of the final third is verse 16—a valiant statement of confidence in the Lord to restore justice.

As we consider laments like this, as well as the repetitiveness of laments in the Psalms generally, we can again rest assured that God is Sovereign, in control, and reckoning plans for Judgment, eternally.


God seems absent because there are often so many more reminders of evil in our world than good. Our minds polarise toward the bad we see, and away from evidence of God’s Sovereignty. The Lord is so good to have provided us the freedom to think either way we wish, but, literally, we are not thankful when thoughts tend negative.

We can always expect in our deepest trials to feel as though God is not present. We can, however, learn the habit of knowing the Lord is always present, helping us even when we don’t see or feel it.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: W. Graham Scroggie, A Guide to the Psalms: a Comprehensive Analysis of the Psalms – Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1995), pp. 78-85.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Healing and the Power of Prayer

“When Jesus had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast the evil spirit out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer and fasting’.” ~Mark 9:28-29 (NRSV modified).

Jesus shows in the above concluding few sentences of the healing of the deaf, demon-possessed boy with severe grand mal epilepsy, that some healings are beyond simple faith and require the power of concerted prayer, including fasting. Even then, for healing to occur it will be according only to God’s will.

Does ‘Little Prayer’ Mean ‘Little Faith’?

It is possibly the disciples’ lack of commitment to prayer that they find themselves in a position where they could not heal the boy in their Master’s name. It may also be that Jesus has said literally what the issue was—just a lack of considered prayer. Either way it took more than the rebuking of the spirit in Jesus’ name to release the boy.

It bears consideration, also, that certain evil spirits require a more staunch approach regarding the healing of subjects in question. Satan-possession, itself, would certainly be at the head of evil powers. Then, the Apostle Paul talks about “thrones or powers or rulers or authorities,” (including principalities), in Colossians 1:16. It is clear that, in demonic terms, there is a hierarchy in play.

But does the matter of little prayer equate to the actualisation of little faith?

The disciples may not have been aware of the need to actively pray and fast in situations like this. That seems to be the literal rendering of the above passage. Certainly a good quotient of prayer does equate to a resonating faith—in that, it’s an action suggesting, in this case of healing, it’s beyond human power. Prayer is about seeking God’s help, for only God can help.

The Regime of Prayer for Healing

Let us again recommence by reiterating an ode to prayer: it is a vocal or non-vocal surrender of faith in human power to allow, and rely upon, God’s power to reign over the given situation. Only God’s Spirit can heal.

Prayer, as a spiritual technique for healing, is nothing about feeling that the healing will take place, how that might occur, and when. Prayer is not bargaining with God to ‘negotiate’ the healing. It is, however, an admission that God has the power to heal; to make disparate, and powerless, the powers of evil, and to restore holy balance.

It needs also to be said that fasting in conjunction with prayer must be a faith-held action—too often we fast for the wrong motives, even in a works-righteousness mental backdrop. We might be lulled into thinking, “If I fast for *this period* then God will transact the healing.” This sort of fasting will only hinder opportunities for healing; the Spirit is grieved at an apparent lack of faith. We cannot ‘improve’ the chances of healing by fasting in certain ways; but we can prove obedient by simply fasting in faith.

If we are to use prayer to facilitate healing in Jesus’ name, we ought to remind ourselves that the power for healing comes from God, and not in any way from the words, or the amount, we pray. The words we pray, and the manner of our prayer, are merely utterances of faith—those essential for knowledge of the miraculous.


Surrendering control for healing through prayer to God is all we are asked to do. Our faith will have us, then, believing that healing can, might, or will occur—through no work of our own apart from the faith to simply pray.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Shining Like Stars Now and Forever

“And the wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and some of the many righteous as the stars for ever and ever.” ~Daniel 12:3 (LXX).

There is always a hesitancy that’s to be duly noted in commentating the apocalyptic books, not to mention taking one single verse either in or out of context. But Daniel’s encouragement, via his vision, is something we can take helpful heart from.

Rather not unlike the proclamation in Philippians 2:12-18 to “shine like stars in the world” (verse 15b), this verse of Daniel commends not only the process of holiness, but the destination of eternity. Some of the “many righteous” may somehow brighten that place.

It’s enough of an encouragement to shelve our plans of moral mediocrity; the temptation of every ‘good person’ to believe in the right things, yet shrink from doing them.

Daniel 12:3 in Context

Treating this verse in context, at least via a passing mention, is to respect the text of the Lord. Daniel 12:3 is, in essence, a central part of the closing to the long prophetic passage in Chapter 11. This three-part prophecy concerns the wicked and contemptible king Antiochus Epiphanes: his coming, his career itself, and possibly Antiochus and the early history of the Roman Empire—but probably more appropriately, the actual end times that are still coming.

There are varyingly divergent approaches in deciphering, and concluding upon, Daniel’s Chapter 11 prophecies. That is beyond my scope here. But to honour a correct hearing of Daniel 12:3 we do need to bear the considered context(s) in mind.

What Daniel 12:3 Might Mean for Us Today

Given the above cautious disclaimer, we can still plunge further into a biblical interpretation of the profiled verse. It can be summed up in the following sub-heading...

The Righteous Do What the Righteous Do

Those who commend themselves to shining like stars—via the courage and wisdom of obedience to the Lord—shall “stand firm and take action” (Daniel 11:32b) when the great persecution comes, and have done so from ancient times.

Even the righteous will be tempted to, and may well, submit under the tyranny of evil, but when they recall that righteousness comes from God, the power of courage and wisdom to stand firm is unconditionally theirs upon faith.

This Power also appoints a starry destiny for those whom believe God and are, thus, reckoned as righteous by their faith.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: James Montgomery Boice, Daniel: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker books, 1989), pp. 110-17. Boice offers his “cautious” thoughts on the latter prophecy; the one that is yet to come. Given that he published this commentary in 1989, it is intriguing that the nations of Egypt, Libya, and Nubia (Cush or Ethiopia: regionally southern Egypt and northern Sudan), as well as most likely Russia (the great northern power quoted in Ezekiel 38:1-6ff), are suggested as the protagonists for a World War that Revelation refers to as Armageddon. It’s at the end of this great turmoil that Christ is to return.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Psalm 124 – Help Comes in the Name of the LORD

“Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth... Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” ~Psalm 124:6, 8 (NRSV).

On the winding upward path of Ascent, this song is sung by the throng of Israel. This psalm is a battle charge of confidence in the help that comes from God when the enemy attacks. How verily appropriate its position: verging toward midway, the Psalms of Ascent (these are Psalms 120–134, which were sung in order by the pilgrims on their annual journeys to Jerusalem during the festival season).

This song is literally an ode of thanks for survival; the Lord is the very reason for that survival.

An Eternal Cry for Help by the Faithful

The faithful can call upon the name of the Lord because that’s the only place where help can reliably come from. It is this pledge of faith that characterises the faithful. They know where to turn in times of distress and uncertainty.

But it is a distinct and specific threat that David the psalmist has in mind. The faithfulness of God is never more highlighted than from the scarp of an averted danger; looking back at what could have been disaster, but has now revealed the miraculous nature of God to come through and save us when all seemed forlorn. Hence faith: the technique for the impossible.

The eternal cry for help by the faithful underscores much of our Bible, particularly the Old Testament and notably the Psalms. It is a refrain God wants us continually reminded of.

Our God – A Very Present Help

Who doesn’t need the help of God?

This is actually an easy question to answer. Those in the faith—by their constant and daily reliance on the God of their salvation—demonstrate their need. They pray and patiently wait. Acceptance is more their byword than dissonance or conflict is.

Those who don’t need God ‘do life’ on their own. Some days are good; others not so. Their days are no different, really, than the days of those who trust in God. Those who need God, however, have the coping mechanism for dealing with the emotions that come from ordinary human existence.

Sure, ambivalence (a technique of the faithless) is one way to cope with adversity, but it rallies against the truth. What good is it to anyone, ultimately, to not deal with life in truth? There’s no good at all in valuing falsity.


John Calvin had it to say that verse 8—“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth”—portrayed the truth about any congregation gathered for worship in about as good a way as any Scripture could.

The fact that our help comes in the name of the Lord signifies the most common reason we believe. Has not God already proven divine help; in all our lives? Analyse that and we will find it is true for every single one of us.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: James L. Mays, Psalms – Interpretation Series (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1994), p. 396-97.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Unity in the Lord’s Supper

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” ~1 Corinthians 11:26 (NRSV).

A central purpose in this sacrament—the Lord’s Supper—is to cultivate Christian unity.[1] Indeed, this is one of the Apostle Paul’s underlying premises as he corrects the Corinthians in their mismanagement of this remembrance ceremony. They ought to enjoy this practice together.

If the Body of Christ cannot enjoy fellowship with the Lord in the sanctity and harmony of oneness, certainly with each other as equals bonded in love, then the Lord’s Supper vanishes in relevance. Power hence evaporates. In some quarters it would be to crucify Jesus again—the Spirit anguished.

Doctrine – Humanity’s Stumbling Block

Legalism has crept in from the beginning. It is our human default to go that way. Knowing this, we need spiritual protection. We need to understand that unity is not our preference. God knows, however, unity’s our only chance at survival.

Doctrine is a flesh-driven thing, as we wrangle with knowledge, and make sense of our world. In that, doctrine is not a beast. It assists us find meaning and helps to steer us straight.

But we all have differences. Everyone sees the world from different perspectives. When we introduce the education process—the want and acquisition of philosophies—with these different perspectives, doctrine is created, endorsed, followed, and promoted.

This is when we tend to polarise. As soon as we do this, our doctrine becoming law in our minds and as others accumulate in agreement, it begins to become a stumbling block; not for others so much, but for ourselves. We are then blindly restricted to our own, at times shared, reality.

The point is our doctrines too often hold us back from achieving the unity that sacraments like the Lord’s Supper aim to promote.

The Purpose of Unity in the Lord’s Supper

Remembrance of Christ and what was achieved on the cross—the broken body and spilt blood of the holy Saviour dying in our stead—is the vertical purpose in this sacrament that is the Lord’s Supper. There are so many dimensions to this vertical purpose, which is us in relation to God.

The horizontal purpose, certainly from the Saviour’s perspective, has to be just as important, and that is about being unified as one—the church—at harmony with the vertical purpose.

The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of unity of our oneness in Christ. The early believers exemplified this (Acts 2:46). Whilst our culture may differ vastly from theirs, unity in grace, peace, and love is what characterises us as Christians.

This sacrament, then, is the epitome of what it means to be the church; a mode of worship, the vertical purpose, with the method of unified fellowship, the horizontal purpose.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Craig Blomberg, The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), p. 232.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Galatians 3 – Paul’s Mood, Message and Mandate

Just what is it that fills the Apostle Paul with the gumption to blast the Galatians: “You foolish Galatians!”? The apostle has a purpose, however; this rebuke is a lesson to us, also, about how to receive negative feedback, besides the doctrinal issues at stake.

Paul’s Mood

A perplexed indignant anger boils within Paul. The very worst thing that he could conceive as occurring for the Galatians, spiritually, has happened. There was evidence that the Judaisers—those that apparently influenced the Apostle Peter and Barnabas—had swayed the Galatians away from grace and back toward the compunction of the Law.

Paul is livid, so concerned is he that an investment in the salvation of the Galatians seems to have soured. So, he has managed to contain himself for most of the letter thus far, besides an adversative section (1:6-10) after the opening salutation.

Perhaps Paul’s best expression is genuine concern; that emanating by the fact that faith has not stuck to the Galatians as he had have hoped. Not unlike Paul’s approach with the Thessalonians, the apostle sees himself in a parental, mentoring role. When mentoring, we do have some expectation that those being mentored will be influenced positively—to that end, to stay influenced.

Paul’s Message

To the church, there is an important message. Notwithstanding the core of the message of chapter 3, that of the power of faith over the powerless rigour of the Law, there is a deeper issue at stake. The evil of false teaching, then and today, threatened and threatens the cohesiveness and direction of the church.

There is hardly a more cancerous element set to destroy a unified fellowship than that of splits over relatively small differences in doctrine that generate large divides between the mass.

Paul’s message is primarily set in reteaching and reaffirming the Christian basics, but this is underpinned by the need to quell a phenomenon known to cause ructions through every age of the church.

Paul’s Mandate

The message necessarily pushes us on toward a mandate—what to do.

The mandate of Paul to the Galatians—and hence to us as well—is that all humankind, conditional in the acceptance of Jesus, whose deeds on the cross and his resurrection redeem us, is now justified by the simple action of faith. No laws, rules or obedience in any way besides faith earns the slightest salvation.

We don’t thumb our noses at a costly grace (costly for God). We don’t cheapen it. The deed of salvation cost our Saviour his life. We don’t undermine the grace-gift by being ‘talked around’ by charismatic individuals. We hold steadfastly to the Power that has released us from the condemnation of our sin.

“Paul’s mandate is: never forget what has been done for us; a thing we could never do; that is, capture our own salvation.”

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Meeting Jesus, One Day

Notwithstanding our faith, we’ll all have moments of doubt—will we really meet Jesus at the end of it all? But the faithfulness of God is faithful in this: what God has promised will surely come to pass.

Imagine our gobsmacked awe—to stand there, metaphorically, (because we’ll no longer have physical bodies), before the Presence of the living God... in heaven.

Imagine. Ponder the enormity of such an experience.

This is an event coming to each and every one of us. It’s not something we can yet avoid, even if we wanted to. We have all our lives, until the end, to anticipate the thought.

How might it change the way we’ll live?

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Supremacy of Christ – Part 1

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.” ~Colossians 1:15-16 (NRSV).

This passage above, along with the four subsequent verses, is one of the most eloquent pieces of Scripture that God breathed through the Apostle Paul about the Lord Jesus Christ—God, the Son.

The Image Of The Invisible God – The Firstborn Of All Creation

As we are made in the image of God, so Christ is the very image of God. The distinction is made; this is not about his physical appearance: Jesus, the man.

The characteristics of the Lord characterised the personality of Jesus. These traits of the Son of Humanity were, unlike his physical presence, hence invisible. Yet, they can be observed in the mind’s eye as we read the gospels. Notwithstanding, the Son is himself God—the precise representation and manifestation, eternally.

Being “the firstborn of all creation” is an interesting concept for God.

This has nothing to do with the Son being a ‘creation’, for God cannot be. But being created in the image of God, humankind has taken its image from the Godhead, three-in-one. It is true, also, that the Father and the Holy Spirit share equality in Deity regarding the creative process. The Son is pre-existent to creation, pricelessly unique in comparison to it, and unquestionably superior over it.

In Him, All Things Were Created

Now to the exaltation of Jesus, the Christ, in the inspired words of Paul:

Both the instrument and goal of creation, the Son encapsulates the totality of the creative work of God—the heavens which are invisible and spiritual, and the earth which is visible and material—all these in him, through him, and for him.

An astounding fact is this: the Son brought, with effect, all this into being; even thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers. These refer to angelic creatures, usually of darkness. These dark angels have no power apart from Christ; they exist because of the agency of God. We may ask why. We may know some day, after the fact of days.

The point is, nothing within the breadth, width, height, and depth of creation is apart from the Son. And despite their existence, evil angels cannot separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39). Additionally, the good angels cannot add anything to creation that God has not already designed into creation.

The supremacy of Christ is all these things and more. In part two we will explore Colossians 1:17-20, which completes the passage we have initiated the discussion about here.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Isaiah 12 – The Remnant’s Thanksgiving and Praise

“Surely God is my salvation: I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.” ~Isaiah 12:2 (NRSV).

A punchy six-verse chapter elicits thanksgiving and praise for what has taken place in the vision of Isaiah in previous chapters, noting the righteous reign of the coming King (Isaiah 9:1-7), the action of repentance by the remnant of Israel (Isaiah 10:20ff), and reflections over the ensuing peaceful Kingdom (Isaiah 11:1-9). Descriptions of the return of the remnant are given in the Isaiah 11:10-16.

The Urgency of Repentance

There is nothing divisive in the New Testament in the hearing of Isaiah’s theology. Throughout the entire Bible the urgency of the call to repentance is made known. No one can become “Christian” without first having repented; then having committed to ongoing repentance.

To repent, then, is a necessary precursor to the availing stream of the power and blessing of God—to redeem us, spiritually, as part of that repentant remnant.

The urgency of repentance is, really, at its most fundamental, the call to truth; to live a life aligned more and more with the truth; to allow God to establish us in truth. Truth turns us back to God. Whatever winding road we find ourselves on, we are still destined for the holy path of truth if we are committed in repentance.

Repentance Invites Thanksgiving and Praise

Any human being, not just Christians, will know the peace that comes when they account for themselves in truth, not hiding the slightest detail.

Once such a peace is invoked, the mind empties itself of transgression, and the heart begins to fill with something so positive as to transmit thanksgiving and praise. No longer is guilt or shame or resentment fighting for a piece of the cognitive action; our part to account has been given over to the Lord in truth—God deals with the rest.

Free of any sense of negativity—at least for the time being—the above phenomenon takes place. We imagine a flowery field on a summer’s day with space and time to move, lay and ponder. Forgotten—at least for the time being—are those wrangling visions; any number of closeted realities where darkness shone its vacuous scourge through us, expunging our hope.

Proof of God

Chapter 12 of Isaiah is a wonderful testimony to the salvation of God. This is the faithful response from a covenant Lord toward a remnant who have responded as this Lord has commanded.

There is proof of God—and of the faithfulness of God to bless us, spiritually—when we repent. Peace is hence known. Further proof of the Lord by the welling of thanksgiving and praise from within our beings. Then there is no darkness. The light has shone it away.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Galilean Prophet Who Became The Messiah

At Nicodemus’ challenge, the unbelieving Pharisees replied: “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” ~John 7:52 (NRSV).

By this stage of proceedings the Pharisees had cooked up a rage against the man who was about to become the Messiah—the man, Jesus of Nazareth: God incarnate.

Unfortunately for the Pharisees they were right about the wrong things. The Pharisees looked down on Galileans, but even worse, at this stage—well into the earthly ministry of Jesus—they were losing spiritual control by the day. Indeed, in any event several other prophets—for instance, Jonah, Hosea and Nahum, at least—had come from Galilee. The Minor Prophet, Micah, (in 5:2) highlights the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem—a “little clan of Judah.” ‘The Prophet’ was not to come from Galilee as they said, for they assumed Jesus was born in Galilee because he was raised there. But, ‘The Prophet’ was also to be called a Nazorean (Matthew 2:23 cf. Isaiah 11:1) which is an irony the Pharisees didn’t pick up on.

The fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and was raised in Nazareth, fitted at least two separate Old Testament prophecies surrounding the coming of the Messiah.

So, for experts of the Law and of the history of Israel—the Law and the Prophets—the Pharisees were floundering. As Jesus’ ministry was flourishing, theirs was coming unpicked at the seams.

Nicodemus – A Pharisee of Light

This instance of Nicodemus putting a straightforward question before his fellow Pharisees is the second of three that the fourth gospel paints in a positive light.

The first involved Nicodemus going to Jesus in a disposition of humility, seeking to learn about the Kingdom (John 3:1-15). The third involved Nicodemus honouring Jesus’ burial with the provision of 75 pounds of spices (John 19:38-42).

This Pharisee demonstrated the wisdom of insight, the ability to discern truth, and the courage to question authority and commit resources toward honouring a ‘prophet’ he no doubt esteemed as more than a prophet.

From one lot of Pharisees to a completely different Pharisee we can learn a lot about ignorance and arrogance and humility and wisdom; just from contrasting them.

A Ministry on the Rise

For a prophet allegedly from Galilee—where ‘none’ would arise—Jesus’ repute was growing. He was just about to be embroiled in this fiasco that was the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53—8:11). This time it wasn’t Jesus’ mastery for physical healing on display, but his compassion, wisdom of insight, and righteous indignation to cast a metaphorical stone at those about to cast their stones at a so-called ‘guilty’ woman who was no guiltier than they were.

This Prophet from Galilee was no typical prophet. Each footstep along each dusty track and cobblestone road was one footstep closer to the eternal destiny that was the cross.

Jesus’ ministry did not stop, or even halt, at his death. This Prophet became also an everlasting Priest and the King of all ages. The Ministry of Jesus continues on through the Holy Spirit. And this ministry will not be stopped at arrogant intercessions of Pharisaic individuals.

This Jesus Ministry is one on the rise, more and more. It will never stop growing.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: Colin G. Kruse, The Gospel According To John: An Introduction and Commentary – Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), p. 197.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Psalm 88 – When God Doesn’t Answer

“O LORD, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me? Wretched and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.” ~Psalm 88:14-15 (NRSV).

What’s in range here is something that all people, and all Christians, know is a feature of life, but we so often pretend isn’t. No genuine Christian likes to consider that God doesn’t, occasionally, answer prayer. More importantly, the real world wants to learn that even the Bible—God’s Word—suggests that feeling estranged from God happens.

Of course it happens, and Psalm 88 attests to its happening. Additionally, the psalmist—Heman the Ezrahite—grapples with their own imminent death. This may be a depressing psalm for many, but it is an urgent voice speaking to those in the wilderness. It speaks to a world needing relevant and compassionate encouragement in the midst of silence from God.

The Purpose of ‘Dark’ Psalms

Psalms of the darkness, like this one, polarise the emotions.

We read them when life is swimmingly good and they really make no sense—the psalmist heaping bulbous nodules of self-pity, and blinded by same, all over themselves.

Then, life changes. Quickly we burrow into a hole centred upon our own oblivion. All around us is stark as fear entraps our hope. No one can empathise with us in the pit; truly, only God can help. And as we read God not helping, we are helped, because we don’t feel like we are be only ones left completely barren of response from God.

Psalm 88 is, perhaps, the darkest psalm; almost because it takes aim at God for not helping. The truth is, many journeys of matured faith involve such seasons where feelings of abandonment are normal. God never abandons us, but we genuinely feel that he has during these times. So wonderful it is that God’s Word speaks to us, here, in such darkness.

Relevant Nuances for the Spiritually Disenfranchised

Such dark psalms offer hope to the spiritually oppressed. The following are some nuances relevant to dark nights of the soul:

1. Often we might feel like we are occupying hell. This psalm mentions “the Pit,” “Sheol,” and “Abaddon” in verses 4, 6, 3, and 11. Such nouns are, in effect, adjectives of a weary soul, desolate, and without a companion—even God. When we reside here—in the hellishness of life—we actually want to read that others have experienced the same isolation. An answer is less important than the empathy we receive (from God, ironically) to consider others have also suffered.

2. Given a certain hypochondria, a matter for more of us than we would care to admit, we will often worry even despite biblical commands not to. We worry about death and disease; about an unpredictable and sudden demise; and not just from a health viewpoint; it occurs in the financial sense as well, among others.

3. It will be clear to every human being—at varying stages—that God does not wait with his ear fixed to the door of our prayer closets anxiously seeking to break through our challenges. God does listen. But part of the process of maturity is resolving our challenges in our own way with God as a non-interfering heavenly Sponsor. Such prayer is the medium for the psalmist’s communication with God in verses 2 and 13. The psalmist is not answered, and oftentimes we will not feel answered, either.

4. Loneliness comes for many reasons. Sometimes it is only circumstantial; not because of conflict or betrayal. We are just alone. At other times, however, loneliness comes because of our friendships. In verses 8 and 18 we get a glimpse of the psalmist in their shame. Again, this is an enormous encouragement. We, as a fact of being human, will all feel the king-hit of shame, as well as pangs of guilt for some of the things we’ve done. It’s important to be reminded, as we read a psalm like this one, that these are not unique emotions. Almost everyone has them.

There is a season for a psalm so dark; its testimony enfolding over us is encouragement, for the darkness others too have experienced. God wants us to know, we are not alone in that darkness time. Others are there, and have been there. In this we are encouraged.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: Craig C. Broyles, Psalms: New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1999), pp. 352-54.