Big Enough for Hate Mail: Psalm 88

This is the second post in an ongoing series on the subject of doubt in the life and practice of the church.

In my first post in this series, I gave a you brief glimpse into my journey out of doubt and into the world of faith. 

Let’s try that again.  In the first post of this series, I gave you a brief glimpse into my journey out of a prolonged period of doubt into the world of faith that was actually large enough to include room for doubt.  You see, doubt isn’t something that ever truly goes away.  Doubt is the very human tendency to take our eyes off of what we can’t see only to focus them on the things that we can see.  And given the fact that I am highly skeptical of my ability to ever stop doing this until I am made complete in the New Creation, I imagine I will always have periods in my life where I can’t see the things that I hope for because I’m too busy looking at the things that press down upon me and make me fearful.

This, of course, raises the question: how do I deal with doubt when it arises?  Where do I go?  It’s one thing to simply say, “Turn it over to the LORD,” but it’s another thing entirely to turn something over to someone that you are struggling to comprehend, let alone trust.   So for me, the answer to the question has become quite routine.  When I doubt, I turn to Psalm 88.  Why that particular Psalm you ask?  Because it has the virtue of being utterly unique amongst all of the other lament Psalms found in the pages of Scripture.  Allow me to explain.

In the middle of the Bible, there is a book of poetry called Psalms.  Within this book, there are exactly 150 works of poetry that were composed by the Jewish people as they sought to follow in the footsteps of YHWH (or “Yahweh”).  Within those 150 works, there are approximately 40 poems that are classified as “Lament Psalms.” Now what is a Lament Psalm, you ask, and why should I care?  Well, a Lament Psalm is a poem that expresses a deep and profound disappointment with God.  These are poems that intentionally give voice to the inner doubts and fears of the very human authors that desperately wanted to believe in God, but found Him lacking in terms of keeping His promises to them.  Not surprisingly, by the end of a typical Lament Psalm, the author has come around and he finds himself on his knees worshiping and repenting for his lack of belief.

Now, take a look at Psalm 88.  Like all the other Lament Psalms, it brings a serious charge against God.  The author has tried to follow in the ways of God and yet, he finds himself in a position where he believes that God has not kept His end of the bargain.  Now look more closely at the closing of the closing of the poem.

     I am oppressed and have been on the verge of death since my youth.

     I have been subjected to your horrors and am numb with pain. 

     Your anger overwhelms me; your terrors destroy me.

     They surround me like water all day long; they join forces and encircle me. 

     You cause my friends and neighbors to keep their distance; 

     those who know me leave me alone in the darkness.

Stop and think about that for a moment.  Whereas every other Lament Psalm ultimately ends with the human author turning back to his Maker, Psalm 88 ends in complete and utter despair.  The author does not turn and worship.  He does not bend knee and submit.  His simply closes his poem with a series of charges and lays down his pen …

I love that Psalm.   I love everything about it because it tells me something about the character of YHWH.  If you take seriously the claims of 2 Timothy 3:16, than you know that God is intimately involved in the writing of this Psalm.  It is, as Timothy says, “God breathed” and “profitable” for study.  Think about that for a minute.  Think about the nature of a God who is so invested in the life of this despairing author that he inspires the author to write hate mail.  And now think about a God that is so invested in humanity as a whole that He sees fit to include this kind of poetry in His divine revelation.

What does that say about God?  What does it say about the room He leaves for anger, doubt, despair, and rage? 

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5 Responses to Big Enough for Hate Mail: Psalm 88

  1. Doug says:

    “Think about the nature of a God who is so invested in the life of this despairing author that he inspires the author to write hate mail. And now think about a God that is so invested in humanity as a whole that He sees fit to include this kind of poetry in His divine revelation.” Man, that is profound. I had never thought of it that way, Scott.

  2. Bob Bryant says:

    I leave a quote by Fyodor Dostoevsky who said, “sometimes the greatest act of faith is in the doubting.” So often perhaps the problem is that we do not dare to honestly engage with God about our doubts, fears and dissapointments.

  3. Confession: I’ve never thought of it that way either, though I have wondered why it’s there. What does it say about God? Well, just the initial reaction, it accentuates his infinite mercy. When you consider that human dictators throughout history have killed people for a slip of the tongue, the fact that God not only allows our “hate mail”, but also pardons our worst sins, and beyond that, sent His only begotten Son to die in our place, it can become pretty awe-inspiring.

  4. It’s “accentuates his infinite mercy.” Couldn’t have said it better, Josh!

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