My pastoral letter in this month’s edition of MGPC’s newsletter.
When I was in Sydney last week David Cook asked what I’d be preaching on when I returned home. I replied Hebrews 12:25-29, and Psalm 88. In response to Psalm 88, David commented ‘That’s the dark one.’ And so it is.
I won’t reproduce it here, but go and have a read. The content is bleak as the Psalmist pours out an unbroken stream of lament expressing loneliness, confusion, and a desire to trust God even when he has no idea how that will happen.
Now this is a song which is for the covenant people. It carries no hint of judgment, as if the voice of lament is wrong, or is lacking in some way.
Rather the Psalm give voice to just how low the people of God can find themselves. And even in those depths they are still the people of God.
Some of us have spent long seasons in the dark. Others of us have visited for shorter times.
We can slip in and out.
But we can be in the darkness
and still be assured that we belong to God.
There is a sense of profound isolation from both God and everyone else expressed in these words that seems at odds with the fact that it is a song to be sung to God by a group of His covenant people.
Why put this song on our lips? Well, as I said it helps us remember how dark it can get, and that we are still God’s own in the darkness.
Notice how even though the Psalm may indicate no one is listening, it is still addressed to God. Even in the darkness we can reach out to Him.
We can also see that darkness can continue for a long time. ‘From youth’… Our desire for recovery can turn to impatience, and then to dismissal if there is no improvement. As God’s people we stand alongside others who may be in darkness for a years and decades, rather than days or weeks.
There is a point of empathy which these words evoke among those who have never experienced darkness in their souls. The perceptions and emotions expressed here are instructive in an emotional language that not all of us know, but which all of us need to be aware of.
Those of us who aren’t in the dark need to be aware of what it’s like for those who are.
And we need to remember what it’s like for some who stand among us week by week.
We need to pray and praise for those who can’t, until, in time prayer and praise returns to their hearts.
We need to be faithful to Jesus, who knew the ultimate absence of God’s presence, but who has also experienced the resurrection and glory that all Christians will share.
Psalm 88 ends in darkness, but darkness is not the end. Physically, the presence of God’s people around is testimony of that; spiritually the resurrection presence of Jesus power and the Holy Spirit testifies to a life of eternal light.