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Daily Devotional • April 8

Chase Benefiel
Expressing Hopelessness
A Reading from Psalm 88

1 O Lord, God of my salvation,
    at night, when I cry out before you,
2 let my prayer come before you;
    incline your ear to my cry.
3 For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
    I am like those who have no help,
5 like those forsaken among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
    in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
    and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
    you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9     my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
    I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
    Do the shades rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave
    or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness
    or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast me off?
    Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
    I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
    your dread assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
    from all sides they close in on me.
18 You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me;
    my companions are in darkness.

The person who prays the Psalter regularly knows that lamentation is an integral part of prayer. A third of the Psalms, in fact, are prayers of lament — of complaining to the Almighty. All of these so-called “lament psalms,” however, follow a formula. There is a set, dignified, decent, and orderly way to complain to God. One of them breaks protocol: Psalm 88.

Psalm 88, in the middle of the Psalter, is unremittingly negative. The psalmist (Heman the Ezragite) is seemingly obsessed with the sadness and gloominess of his station. He peppers God with questions about his faithfulness and asks if there is hope found in hell and in destruction. He accuses God of making him lonely and of abandoning him in his profound need. All this he prays in piercing clarity to God, and God does not answer.

Christians love looking on the bright side, reminding ourselves and each other to hope, to be grateful, and to pray for endurance instead of relief. Psalm 88 doesn’t allow us to be too deferential. Psalm 88 places us before God as the complaining malcontent, the one who is totally fed up and needs answers now. But God says and does (ostensibly) nothing.

Psalm 88 tells us that at least one out of 150 times, it’s okay to feel utterly hopeless and to express our hopelessness to God. Yesterday was Good Friday, and tomorrow is Easter Sunday. The gravitational pull of both nearly split us in half. We know where we’re headed, but we also know how we feel here in the grave. God knows both and he bore both in his own body on the tree. God bound us to himself forever, and has harrowed hell and destruction.

Chase Benefiel is a friend, Tennesseean, preacher, and student (in that order) currently finishing his M.Div. at Duke Divinity School.

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Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Sambalpur – The (united) Church of North India
Church of St. Edward the Martyr, New York
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