“We are at God’s mercy…which is the safest place to be.”
JULY 4, 2022
Justin Holcomb: We are at God’s mercy…which is the safest place to be. Let’s talk about it, on Key Life.
This is Key Life. We’re here to let you know that because of what Jesus has done, God will never be angry at you again. Steve invited our friend, Justin Holcomb to do the teaching this week. Justin is an Episcopal priest, an author, and a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary.
Justin Holcomb: Thank you Matthew. My name is Justin Holcomb. And I have the joy of teaching this week, as we are focusing on a few Psalms. I’m convinced that the deepest message of the Bible and the ministry of Jesus is the grace of God to sinners and sufferers. And I think the Psalms are a great picture of this. We have a tendency to minimize our suffering because we think that it’s our cross to bear or that we deserve it as if karma is at work. Or we might be worried that we’re a nuisance to God. The Psalms in particular provoke us out of these approaches. The book of Psalms is not filled with 150 hymns of joy, the Psalms of complaint and accusation, which is the music of confusion, doubt, and heartache significantly outnumber the hymns of joy. While our natural impulse is to deny painful emotions, the Psalms expose them to us in others and God. In light of this exposure, John Calvin writes that the Psalmist lay open the inmost thoughts and emotions, call or rather draw each of us to the examination of themself in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject and of the many vices, which we abound may remain concealed. So, today we’re going to look at Psalm 88. I picked this one because it is so intense and unique Psalm 88 is an individual Psalm of lament by someone who is so overwhelmed with troubles that he’s abandoned by his friends, well at least he feels abandoned and he might have been. He feels abandoned by his friends and feels abandoned by God. This Psalm is a song of distress and misery that offers no simple answers for the grief, loneliness, and questions that overwhelm the Psalmist. Unlike other lament Psalms, which usually includes some explicit expression of hope at the end or confidence. This Psalm has no clear declaration of relief or praise, and it ends with loneliness and darkness. This is the end.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me, my companions have become darkness.
However, there are subtle hints of implicit confidence. To get started verses one and two.
O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!
The Psalmist begins by turning two and crying out to the God of my salvation in his time of misery. When it feels that there’s no answer being given to the suffering and troubles, he is experiencing the Psalmist, expects his petition to be heard, even if there is no answer, he boldly addresses God as the source of his anguish, which implies that God is also the source of relief and rescue, verses three through nine say this.
For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose 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. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eyes grow dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.
So the Psalmist is in this despair and then suggests in the next following verses that God should rescue him from his despair because he can’t glorify God and praise him for his wonders, if he’s dead and in despair and under God’s wrath, he says this in verses 10 through 12.
Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
These hints of hope are the reasons for the Psalmist’s persistent appeal to God. Despite his affliction in despair, the Psalmist trusts that God is faithful with steadfast love. Steadfast love is a unique, strong, faithful, covenantal love that only God can give because God is steadfast love. So what does this mean for you? Psalm 88 is an invitation to an honest assessment of your life. God understands the full range of human experience and can handle your loneliness, your sorrow over your sin, your cry for help in a relationship or your unwavering feelings of depression. Psalm 88 shows us that God sanctions desperate, despair filled and barely hopeful prayers. Prayers about which the Puritans used to call God’s dreadful withdraw. All of us experience moments in life, when God seems silent, God allows the seasons of dreadful withdraw in which we find ourselves crying for his return with great intensity. We find ourselves longing for God in brand new ways. So that the only thing that ends up mattering to us is God’s return. It is because we experience nearness to God that the distance bothers us so much. Our longing for God means we know him. And more importantly, that God knows us. Psalm 88 is also meant to be sung. God meant for people to sing songs of lament as they came to him in the tabernacle. This is the intermingling of hope in hopelessness. God intended the darkest human laments to be brought together with the brightest of human hopes. God’s grace is sufficient for anything you’re going through now, or that you went through in the past, or that you will go through in the future. Notice that the Psalmist never questions whether or not God is in control. In fact, it is the reality that he knows God is an absolute control that is causing him so much pain. God may relieve us from our troubles, but God always demonstrates his sufficiency in our troubles. This Psalm of lament shows us that our doctrine of God matters for real life. You can be completely honest with God about all of your feelings. Only God is great enough to receive this kind of honest response to suffering and not make it worse. While we may be overwhelmed with grief and misery, God is never overwhelmed, threatened, or exasperated. Only God can handle the worst of our suffering. Also God is not frustrated by our honesty with him. We can approach God because we feel forsaken by God, but we also never worry about God rejecting us, judging us for being honest, or forsaking us. Going to God when feeling forsaken, despair, doubt, and fear is an act of faith. In verse seven, the Psalmist says that the flood of his trouble feels like God’s relentless wrath.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
Charles Spurgeon explains that this is not only honest, but also can turn our attention to the work of Jesus Christ. He writes this.
There was one upon whom God’s wrath, pressed very sorely. One who is in truth afflicted with all God’s waves. And that one is our brother, a man like ourselves, the dearest lover of our souls. And because he has known and suffered all this, he can enter into sympathy with us this morning, whatever tribulation may beat upon us. His passion is all over now, but not his compassion. He is born the indignation of God and turned it all away from us. The waves have lost their fury and spent their force on him. And now he sits above the floods. Yay. He sits king forever and ever. And as we think of him, the crucified, our souls may not only derive consolation from His sympathy and powerful succour, but we may learn to look upon our trials with a calmer eye and judge them more according to the true standard. In the presence of Christ’s cross, our own crosses are less colossal. Our thorns in the flesh are as nothing when laid side by side with the nails in the spear.
In all of these ways, Psalm 88 shows us that in fact, we are always at God’s mercy, which is the safest place to be. Let’s pray a portion of this Psalm.
O Lord. God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose 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. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. You have caused my companion to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so I cannot escape; my eyes grow dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O Lord. I spread out my hands to you. Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave. But I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Thank you Justin. That was our good friend Justin Holcomb teaching us today from Psalm 88 about the freedom we have in our communication with God, even in the midst of our suffering. And great news, Justin will be with us all this week, so be sure to join us again tomorrow. So today is the 4th of July and if you’re a real man, you’re out grilling, some kind of meat. Wait, what? Is that really what defines a man? Well, recently on Steve Brown Etc. we spoke with the always hilarious Brant Hansen about this very question. His new book is called The Men We Need: God’s Purpose for the Manly Man, the Avid Indoors Man, and Any Man Willing to Show Up. This conversation was equal parts, belly laughs and deep insights. And we put the whole thing on a CD that we would love to send to you, for free. Get it right now by calling us at 1-800-KEY-LIFE. That’s 1-800-539-5433. You can also e-mail [email protected] to ask for that CD. If you’d like to mail your request, send it to
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