A journey into the darkness of the soul:
Using Psalm 88 as our guide.
|LORD, my God, I call for help by day; I cry out in the night before thee. This is not just boo-hoo with tears; this is screaming for help, this is a cry of desperation, a cry for deliverance, a shriek from a cornered beast. This is desperation that is heard by others in the night and in the day. It is someone that cries out continually.||Psa 88:1;|
|Let my prayer come before thee, incline thy ear to my cry! This is the cry of one that knows that he cannot be rescued by man. He screams out to Jehovah. At the same time he feels that he is being ignored, turn your ear to me… hullo, is there anybody out there?||Psa 88:2;|
|Why is this tribulant so desperate?
For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. His soul is full of troubles. What are troubles? ‘Ra’ most often translated as evil but also meaning pain, suffering, affliction and more. So we see a creature that feels that his soul is full of misery, woe, affliction, pain and suffering. He feels he is near death and that his soul is descending to a place of torment, hell if you like.
|At this point we see a tribulant that feels desperate crying out to God at the point of death but it is not clear if this ‘sheol’ is physical or soulical.||
|I am reckoned among those who go down to the Pit; I am a man who has no strength, He reckons that he is without strength, without the endurance to resist the coming fight.
On his way to the pit.
What is this pit? This ‘bowr’ pit was commonly a cistern for water but used as a prison when partially dry. So we find Jeremiah being thrown into a slimy pit. It also refers to a sepulchre. So this tribulant has the feeling that he is on the way down, he is on the way to hell in this dark slimy pit. If it is physical it’s bad but if it is soulical it is terrifying, a man too weak is being led to depression. If he were speaking today he would say, ‘I am so depressed I feel like death; I’m on my way to a dark place. God help me!’
|like one forsaken among the dead, feeling alone abandoned like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom thou dost remember no more, for they are cut off from thy hand. Here we see it is as if he has already died, but he is alive. He is experiencing an abandonment, death, because he is separated from God. Isolation from God brings feelings of death and dejection. Morbid he feels that he is not even remembered anymore.||Psa 88:5|
|Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep. This is the same ‘bowr’ pit but here he introduces another fresh element to his affliction, he says that God has put him there; in the ‘deep’. If God put him in this pit who is there to call out to?
What is this deep. This is the same deep that Jonah found himself in; this is a slimy watery deep that drowns, suffocates and smothers. Wet slimy clay, preventing breathing, waterboarding if you like. This tribulant is in a deep dark hole that he cannot get out of. Isn’t this a picture of the desperation of depression?
|Thy wrath lies heavy upon me, and thou dost overwhelm me with all thy waves. He feels God’s wrath, fury, anger resting on him; he is feeling pressure, God is leaning on him. Feeling overwhelmed by waves: flooded, the waves keep coming, too quickly for him to cope or come to terms with; floods of tribulation on tribulation. Many tribulants experience this flood of overwhelming circumstances. Too many things coming at the same time, a deluge of trouble. Tribulation seldom comes on one front, the dam wall has burst the interpersonal relationships become strained, small things are suddenly mountainous waves flooding any ability to cope. In these circumstances friends and companions leave.||Psa 88:7;|
|Thou hast caused my companions to shun me; thou hast made me a thing of horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; We have seen the allusion to prison before in the meaning of the ‘bowr’ pit, he feels trapped. He does not know the way out, no way out. Not only has God rejected and condemned him, his friends steer clear of him. Isn’t this what men do? When someone is disheartened, morbidly dejected we shun them and they become things of horror. We naturally avoid depressing people.||Psa 88:8;|
|my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon thee, O LORD; I spread out my hands to thee. He can’t see because he is blinded by mourning and grief. All he can think of is appealing to God for relief by spreading his hands before him begging for mercy. As in the first verse he realises that the Lord who put him in a dark place and is the one that will pull him out. At the same time you can see the questions and confusion: if God put me here what am I doing asking him to rescue me? An exercise in futility… perhaps I can reason with God.||Psa 88:9;|
|In the next three verses the Psalmist ponders, arguing: Dost thou work wonders for the dead? Do the spirits rise up to praise thee?
Is thy steadfast love declared in the grave, or thy faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are thy wonders known in the darkness, or thy saving help in the land of forgetfulness. Basically he is saying; God this is where I am heading, is this really what you want for me? Do you want me dead, because that’s what is happening, I am dying. Do the spirits of the dead give you praise? He raises the spectre of Abaddon and this is interesting: Abaddon is not just a place it is a place with personality. This is the place of lost dreams; of lost sheep of wild animals that disappear in the wilderness. Also used of rivers that disappear into the sand; hence to perish or be destroyed. Hence, lands and houses that are destroyed. Metaphorically of hopes, wishes and desires that are frustrated. Here we see a man that is having his hopes dreams and plans for the future disappear before his eyes. His future is disappearing into the sand and he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand. Logic is no help. Job had the same difficulty trying to reason with Almighty God.
|It is as if the lid has been taken off the box and he has been exposed to the destroying nature of a brute intent on destroying body, soul and spirit. Depression is equally destructive and depressives are often accused of paranoia because they give personality to the destructive forces consuming their lives.|
|Are thy wonders known in the darkness, or thy saving help in the land of forgetfulness. We see the darkness closing in and the land of forgetfulness approaching… this is oblivion, the scrubbing of the slate so that his little fire is extinguished, leaving no record of his being there. That is how he sees his life, a transitory thing, a blade of chaff dispersed on the wind. Part of depression is the contemplation of the brevity of life, the impermanence of the body and soul.||v12|
|There are breaks in the dark clouds that surround the tribulant: But I, O LORD, cry to thee; In the morning my prayer comes before thee. The morning brings a breakthrough he realises that his prayer is before God. in the brief morning he brings his prayer before God and then plunges back into the dark waters. You can hear him saying to himself ‘if you do hear me then why don’t you answer?||Psa 88:13;|
|And he asks: O LORD, why dost thou cast me off? Why dost thou hide thy face from me? Feelings of abandonment, of being cast off like a dirty garment; the feeling that God has hidden from him in his most desperate time. Depression is not fun and the depressive feels utterly alone in a world that others can never enter, a land where they are forgotten, and where monsters are attacking them. I call it fighting tigers. Giant ‘Hobbs’ like tigers of the mind, intent on annihilating me, the wrestling goes on all night and when the morning comes it leaves you exhausted and empty. No relief and no respite. The night will return soon.||Psa 88:14;|
|Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer thy terrors; I am helpless. He feels that he has been suffering for such a long time ‘from youth up’. He feels helpless abandoned and utterly alone and the worst is that he feels that God is afflicting him with terrors. How do you describe a terror that is unseen, faceless, nameless that lives inside of you, infesting you head, like a giant beetle grub eating from the inside? How do you describe a terror? Scripture describes this terror as a dread and great darkness. Fear of the dark surrounds the tribulant terrifies him. This is common in depressives. In rare times when they surface and experience the dawn they fear the approaching night. will throw into confusion … turn their backs confusion and flight are responses to terror of this sort… a confusion that causes them to flee like chaff before an hurricane… anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me. …like the growling of a lion; as if pursued by a lion, hunted and harried… Your mind will muse on the terror: not a nice place.||Psa 88:15
|I suffer thy terrors; I am helpless. The word suffer is a root word ‘nas’a’ which means to bear as one who carries the weight. Our tribulant is feeling the weight of terrors. In the face of this onslaught it is unsurprising that the tribulant feels helpless. The utter dejection of one without help and hope under a heavy load.||v15|
|Thy wrath has swept over me; thy dread assaults destroy me. Part of his problem is that he feels assaulted by the very one he is crying out to in anguish. How do you ask for help and deliverance from God when it is he that is attacking you? The wrath he is speaking of here is a word ‘charown’ which he repeats twice, once directly after the other, emphasizing the heat of God’s anger. It is a burning anger, a hot wrath like lava that has swept over this tribulant. He feels the waves of assault that sweep over him, inundating him, destroying.||Psa 88:16;|
|They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in upon me together. This is a besieged man surrounded by darkness, terrors and dread, isolated and alone, helpless and hopeless. Depressives feel frightened, lonely with darkness closing in like an army from all sides. Another translation puts it this way… All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. Submerged and inundated the depressive feels walled in and cut off. Locked in, the prison is flooding and there is no way out and nobody to call to for help even the jailer has gone. In other places in scripture the images are intensely expressed: The sorrows of hell compassed me about… For dogs have compassed… Many bulls strong [bulls] of Bashan have beset me round… His archers compass me round about. This is not an individual having a bad day this is spiritual type, a metaphor used again and again showing the all-encompassing, surrounding nature of tribulation||Psa 88:17;
Psa 22:6, 12, 16;
|You have taken from me friend and neighbour- darkness is my closest friend. No more needs said: Depression in a nutshell. Darkness my closest friend.||Psa 88:18; NIV|
|I have always read this as the end, the conclusion of the psalm but the more I think about it is the beginning of something new. You see this man is at the end of himself, he has no friends round him, he is at the end of what is humanly possible yet in the midst of the darkness he has a companion. Darkness itself has become his familiar. God dwells in the darkness, God has not left him, God has not forsaken. This darkness that horrified him is friend. He has moved through isolation and loneliness to solitude and solace in the deepest darkness. You see, God uses darkness to find us, he rides on the dark storms of life; he created darkness and evil for his own purposes. In the deep darkness he dwells.||