"From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend."
What does that sound like to you? If you’ve never heard it before, you might think it’s an angsty poem written by a teenager who wears all black all the time, but it actually comes from the Bible. More specifically, it comes from the book of Psalms, the Old Testament prayer book that many Christians and Jews today still draw from for their daily prayers. These are the last four verses of Psalm 88, and they contain a very valuable lesson about our spiritual lives.
A Different Psalm
I remember when I first encountered these words. I was shocked. I knew that the psalms covered all sorts of topics and situations, and I even knew that many of them were called psalms of lament because they're all about lamenting the bad things their authors were going through. Nevertheless, I was still surprised the first time I read Psalm 88. Even though it shares some characteristics with other psalms, there’s something very different about it too. To see what I mean, take a look at the endings of a few other psalms of lament:
"But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me." (Psalm 13:5-6)
"But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is present in the company of the righteous.
You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.
Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!" (Psalm 14:5-7)
If you didn't know any better, you wouldn't even know that these quotes come from psalms of lament. They end on happy, hopeful notes. Even though their authors were going through some pretty rough times, they still expressed hope and joy in their prayer. They believed that God was going to vindicate them, and they let their optimism be known.
But Psalm 88 is different. It ends on a darker, much more depressing note. The author simply tells God how much he's suffering, and that’s it. He doesn't say that God is going to get him through it. He doesn't say that he believes God will vindicate him or give him victory over his enemies. Instead, he ends with quite possibly the most depressing line in all of Scripture: "darkness is my closest friend."
Being Honest With God
Admittedly, this isn’t what most of us would expect from the Bible, but like I said before, this psalm actually teaches us a very important lesson about our spiritual lives. It tells us that it's okay to be honest with God when we pray. It's okay to tell him exactly what we're feeling, no matter what that may be. We don't have to pretend to be happy when we're not. We don't have to pretend to be cheerful when everything around us seems to be going wrong.
Simply put, we don't have to sugarcoat or sanitize our emotions when we pray. Instead, we should just be honest with God. In our worst moments, we can tell him how truly helpless we feel. In our darkest hour, we can tell him just how bad things really seem. In fact, that's what he wants. By inspiring the author of Psalm 88 to write such a depressing prayer, he was signaling to us that he wants us to pray like that if that's how we really feel.
You'll often hear that Christians are supposed to be joyful, and that's true, but that doesn't mean that we can't ever be sad. That doesn't mean that we're not allowed to feel like the author of Psalm 88. We're definitely allowed to feel the way he did, and when we do, we're allowed to pray the way he did as well.