Summary: What can we learn from a psalm without a happy ending? (Material adapted from Shawn McMullen in an article in Lookout Magazine and from Peter Slofstra at: http://www.crcna.org/resources/church-resources/reading-sermons/dark-ending-bright-beginning)
Gloom, despair, and agony on me; Deep, dark depression, excessive misery; If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all; Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Started studying on depression and went to Psalm 88. Psalm 88 has been called the most melancholy of all the psalms. One person said that it is for the mature. I agree. Since we have the mature here tonight you get gloom, despair and agony on me.
This Psalm provides a vivid picture of suffering, depression, and loneliness. Unlike the other psalms of lament, this psalm does not end on a positive note. Instead it concludes with the observation, “The darkness is my closest friend.”
Why was this psalmist (Heman, not sure who he was) so full of trouble that he cried day and night (vs. 1)? Heman grieved two losses:
1. Heman believed that he was near death. Vs. 3- “My life draws near the grave.” Vs. 5- Set apart with the dead. On his deathbed, he felt “confined and unable to escape- vs. 8”. His eyes are dim with grief- vs. 9. He was grieving the loss of his health
2. Heman was lonely. Even his closest friends stayed away, unable or unwilling to spend time with him in his time of need. “You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.” Psalms 88:8, NIV. “You have taken my companions and loved ones from me” Psalms 88:18, NIV. The hospital is a hard place to visit. The smell of the hospital and the sight of the patient in such crisis, no one is able to do anything but watch. Some do not visit because it reminds them of their own mortality. Some have speculated that Heman had leprosy and this would explain his situation even more. Some loved ones would come and be with him but they cannot because the law said that the leper must be away from everyone and cry “Unclean,” when people did come around. Friends and family would not want to break the law and worse they would not want to contract leprosy so Heman is dying alone.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross in her famous book, “On death and dying,” identified the stages of grief. Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. We see 3 of these stages here in Psalm 88:
1. Anger aimed at God. “You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.” Psalms 88:6, 7, NIV. We can almost see his finger shaking angrily at the heavens; feel his body shaking with frustration at God?
2. Bargaining. “Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?” Psalms 88:10-12, NIV. In other words, come on, God. I’m ready to praise you, to declare your wonders. I can’t do this if I die, so let me live and I’ll show you what a life of worship looks like.
3. Depression in vs. 13-18. It is all consuming- in the morning (vs. 13), all day long (vs. 17), in the darkness (vs. 18). Notice this description of constant suffering- rejection (vs. 14), affliction (vs. 15), an engulfing flood (vs. 17). He is focused on this question, “Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” Psalms 88:14, NIV. Often the question we ask most, “Why?”
Thesis: What can we learn from a psalm without a happy ending?
We need to listen to those who are suffering, to the depressed, to the grieving
There are times when we should say nothing just be a listener. Just listening when someone is angry or upset is hard. The natural response is to become defensive. Maybe had that response when I was reading this psalm. Just listening when someone is down and discouraged is difficult. However, there are times when we should stay with the feeling that is being expressed and simply be quiet and listen. For those who have depressed and chronically afflicted people in our lives, this psalm reminds us that there are times when people need to vent and lament and just be heard. It is freeing for comforters to remember that if it’s good enough for God just to be quiet and listen to this psalm, then it’s good for us to just be quiet and listen too. People who feel the way the psalmist felt will tell us that one of the best gifts we can give is a listening ear.
Sad, grieving people do not need explanations for what we think is wrong in their lives. They don’t need solutation for what we pereive to be their problems. They don’t need advice based on what has worked for us in a difficult but different situation. They don’t need impatience with their slow progress or even backsliding. They don’t need relentless optimism, which only makes their despair worse. The natural response is to say something encouraging, to point out something positive. We want to say something helpful but there are no magic words. Just Listen!