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When You Cannot Trace His Hand

“A true Christian believer may be taken by God through times of deep and dark despair…This is a very important truth.” Christopher Ash

“This is a very important truth.” Couldn’t agree more. Let’s read this very important truth again just to make sure it’s made a very important impression upon us. “A true Christian believer may be taken by God through times of deep and dark despair.” A true Christian believer. Someone who is genuine, someone who is sincere and passionate in their love for God and their pursuit of God and their practice of godliness. There is no secret sin they haven’t confessed. They haven’t neglected to read their Bible or pray. They haven’t drifted from the local church. Yet, God himself might take them through a time of deep and dark despair.

Just ask Heman, the Ezrahite, the guy who wrote Psalm 88.

Have you ever read Psalm 88? If you are wondering what “deep and dark despair” feels like or sounds like in prayer just read Psalm 88. Heman knew deep…dark…despair.

Actually there is no other Psalm like Psalm 88 in the Psalter. Derek Kidner writes, “There is no sadder prayer in the Bible.” This Psalm begins in despair and ends in darkness. The Psalmist concludes this song with these words, “…my companions have become darkness (v18).” Heman identifies darkness as his closest companion, not God. Imagine singing this song this Sunday with the gathered church. Without preparing folks for this song the effect of this song would be most unsettling. Yet, this is a divinely inspired song written for us to sing. Heman was a songwriter, one of the Sons of Korah and this song went beyond platinum to Bible. For us. James Boice wrote of this Psalm,

“It is good we have a psalm like this…It reminds us that life is filled with trouble, even to the point of despair, even from mature believers.”

Perhaps you need this reminder. A genuine Christian, a mature believer can experience this deep and dark despair, particularly in the midst of severe or chronic suffering. This guy feels like God has put him in a “pit” where all he can see as he prays is “darkness.” And even when he is done praying all he sees is “darkness.” Even after prayer nothing seems to change And this is the experience of a godly man who desires to please and glorify God. So if you find yourself in this condition of soul, you are not alone and you can be assured that it’s not a sign of God’s disapproval.

Actually, God is near and God is at work even though we can feel he is absent or even opposing us. There is a purpose for this pit. It is certainly unpleasant to be in this pit but it’s not pointless. There is a purpose for every pit even if that purpose isn’t immediately obvious. I’ve found the wise counsel of Charles Spurgeon particularly helpful when I find myself in this pit. Mr. Spurgeon wrote, “When you cannot trace His hand, we must learn to trust His heart.” When you are in this pit, it’s difficult to trace His hand because, well, because you can’t see. The greatest challenge to our faith in the pit is when God doesn’t provide an explanation for the pit. However here in the pit is where true faith clings to God even when His activity is hidden. True faith trust’s His heart. True faith affirms there is a purpose for the pit even when you cannot immediately perceive this purpose. True faith sings Psalm 88 and receives this song as a gift from God, an evidence of His presence and purpose as we persevere in the pit for another day or longer if necessary.

And though this “a very important truth” for the the Christian there is a much more important truth about this darkness: the darkness of Psalm 88 is not the ultimate darkness. This Psalm captures a particular darkness but this Psalm doesn’t capture the darkest moment in all of history, instead it points to that moment. The darkest moment wasn’t experienced by the Psalmist-the darkest moment was experienced by the Son of God on the cross when he was made sin with our sin and experienced the wrath that we deserved because of our sin.  That was the darkest moment. And because the Savior experienced that darkness in our place as our substitute, darkness does not have the last word in the life of the Christian. He endured this darkness so that the last word over our lives wouldn’t be darkness. And this love and assurance makes all the difference when God takes a genuine believer through a season of deep and dark despair.

This post is an adaptation of a sermon I preached on Psalm 88 at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville