Posted in musings

depression and hope in psalm 88

The Psalm for Compline on Fridays (Psalm 88) is one of the darkest in Scripture. The author is in intense agony, holding onto his faith by his fingernails, clinging to a truth he can no longer feel or see clearly.

The exact conditions of his suffering are not revealed; all we know is that he is close to death and feels overwhelmed by the anger of God. “I am reckoned as one in the tomb: I have reached the end of my strength,” he writes, and “imprisoned, I cannot escape; my eyes are sunken with grief.” I have considered, for years, that this psalm of all the Psalms most accurately depicts the anguish of deep depression, as it aligns well with the interplay between faith and mental illness that I have experienced in certain seasons of my life.

Looking at the psalm now, however, I am noticing far more hope buried within it than I had seen before. Even as the psalmist feels alone, abandoned, and rejected – even as he claims that his “one companion is darkness” – still, he is in conversation with God. He has not succumbed to the silence of despair. He protests, he pleads, he questions, he presents a case: so at some level he still trusts God to hear him and to respond. The darkness of his circumstances and the pain within him to not cause him to give up his faith or to turn away from his God; instead, he brings his suffering to his God and proclaims implicitly, even through his complaints, the depth of his faith and the fierce fighting strength of his hope.

Make no mistake, it takes ferocity, determination, and endurance to be able to say with one breath, “Your fury has swept down upon me; your terrors have utterly destroyed me” and with another, “As for me, Lord, I call to you for help: in the morning my prayer comes before you.” It takes hope with deep roots to persist through that kind of suffering. And yet the psalmist holds fast. Even in the darkness, even in the overwhelming flood of his anguish, even though he cannot honestly say that he believes a better time will come and that God will give him the help he desires, he has the strength to continue to cry out to the Lord.

It does not make a person less of a Christian, less a follower of God, to be so surrounded by pain and darkness that they cannot visualize or verbalize the realization of their hope, or proclaim the promises of God in faith. What reveals the hard, true core of their faith is that they hope enough to continue to cry to Him even when it seems that no answer or succor will come.