A friend of mine was telling me about some friends of his. “Years ago they would always go to church,” he said of the friends, “but then their daughter was killed in a car accident, and they have not been back to church since the funeral. They are upset with God for letting that happen, and they have given up on faith.”
Someone else I know had been raised in the church, but years later he and his wife had drifted away from the faith. Then, he told me, their son died of cancer when he was only 21, and that brought them back to God. Life’s tragedies and afflictions can bring us closer to God, or can drive us away from God.
Philip Yancey wrote a book called Disappointment with God. On the dedication page of the book, Yancey wrote, “To my brother, who is still disappointed.” In other books Yancey has written about the harsh, judgmental church in the South that he and his brother attended as children. The members of that church were not loving, but were self-righteous, mean, and racist. He had much to be disappointed about. But he learned more about God later, and was then able to separate his disappointment with the church from his faith in God. His brother, however, had not yet been able to do that, and gave up on God.
Psalm 88 is the most despairing of all the Psalms. Of the 150 Psalms, this is the only one that does not express a single word of hope. Many Psalms list the writer’s troubles, describe his despair, and even wonder out loud about God’s faithfulness. But in every other Psalm, the writer will eventually change his tone and say, “but then I remembered all that God has done for me,” or “but then God lifted me up out of the pit,” or something like that; and then go on to express again his faith and trust and hope in the Lord. But not Psalm 88. The tone of this Psalm is complete hopelessness and despair in every verse, from beginning to end. There is no what a friend we have in Jesus here; rather, the last verse says ‘the darkness is my only companion.’ Other verses describe how all he sees is trouble, terror, God’s anger, and God’s rejection. “My life is at the brink of the grave,” he says in verse three, and later, “you have hidden your face from me, O Lord.” This Psalm expresses no hope or trust in God.
Judas Iscariot is probably the most despised person in the Bible. It is incredible to think that Jesus, more worshiped and respected and loved than any other person in history, was betrayed by one of his closest friends. There is much speculation about why Judas did what he did, but all we can do is guess. The Bible tells us nothing about his inner motives. Some scholars speculate that perhaps Jesus was not going far enough for Judas, and Judas thought that if arrested, Jesus might be forced into a more radical ministry. Others have wondered if perhaps Judas was the conservative one, and he thought Jesus was moving too fast, and that an appearance before the authorities would chasten Jesus force him into a more traditional approach. There are many theories and no way to prove any of them. But I think it is safe to say that for some reason, Judas was disappointed with Jesus. Maybe he wanted to change Jesus, and maybe he was giving up on Jesus. But he was disappointed; disappointed like the couple who quit going to church after their daughter was killed, disappointed like Philip Yancey’s brother– disappointed with God like we all probably are at one time or another.
Following his disappointment, Judas became hopeless. Judas did not expect Jesus would be sentenced to death. Perhaps Judas was naïve, or perhaps he was deceived by the chief priests. But when Judas heard that Jesus was to be executed, he became desperate and hopeless. He went back to the chief priests and expressed his remorse, admitting that he had betrayed innocent blood. But they sent him away saying, “What is that to us?” Judas, then without hope and filled with guilt, threw the blood money at them, went out from them, and took his own life. The consequences of his actions left him completely hopeless, like the writer of Psalm 88.
That was where it ended for Judas. He died disappointed with Jesus and without hope. But there is a difference between the hopelessness of Judas and the hopelessness of Psalm 88. There isn’t a word of hope in the entire Psalm, but there is something of faith in the way it is written. Filled with despair as it is, the words of the Psalm are still all spoken to God. It begins with these words, “Lord, you are the God who saves me.” Down and out as the writer is, he is still speaking to God. He goes on to say, “your anger weighs heavily upon me… you have rejected me… you have put my friends far from me;” he even blames God for all his troubles. But he is still speaking to God, and that takes faith. He is hanging on by a thread, but he is hanging on; and by faith, he is expressing his despair to God. (continued…)
PSALM 88 (portions)
Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you...
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 like one without strength...
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 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...
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.