In the Office: Hope in the Presence

This morning’s psalm (Psalm 88) is quite possibly the most hopeless poem in the Bible. Like other laments, it presents the despairing cry of one who feels surrounded by troubles and cut off from God. But unlike those other laments, it expresses no sense of assurance that the Lord will hear and answer. In the place where we would expect to hear some affirmation that God is a Shield and Fortress who delivers us from trouble; this psalm offers only pain: “You have taken from me friend and neighbor — darkness is my closest friend” (verse 18).

Now, as “unconventional” as this tone may be, it actually gives a great gift to us; because sometimes, life is like that. Sometimes, we sit in darkness — unable to see the light — and it’s important for us to understand that even these raw emotions are an appropriate fuel for prayer. The Lord is “big” enough and compassionate enough to handle even our doubts and dismay.

In the OfficeBut at the same time, the very language of this psalm invites us to place both it and our experiences of abandonment and hopelessness in a broader context. In the midst of Psalm 88, we hear these questions: “Do you show your wonders to the dead? 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?” (verses 10-12)

But in another psalm (Psalm 139) we are given these answers:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there…

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. (verses 7-8; 11-12)

Granted, these words come from different people, facing different sets of circumstances. But maybe that’s part of the point. The pain and hopelessness of any one moment does not provide the “last word” on the topic of God’s faithfulness and presence. Because as we bring our raw and unfiltered suffering to the Lord, I’m convinced that we begin to discover ways that He meets us in it. He is, after all, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” And as we cling to Him — even in those moments when we can’t find a reason to “feel” like we should — His presence carries us through our moments of despair — and on into moments in which we can affirm His hope again.

Naturally, I pray that you don’t find yourself in darkness today. But even if you do, I hope you can remember that a Light still shines in the darkness — and the darkness has not  overcome it (John 1:5).

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